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Federal scientists advocate for pandemic control as infection declines

While coronavirus deaths tend to fluctuate more than cases and hospital admissions, Dr Walensky said the most recent seven-day average was slightly above average earlier in the week. The seven-day average of the newly reported deaths was 2,165 as of Thursday.

“We at the CDC see this as a very concerning course change,” she said, adding, “I want to be clear: the cases, hospital admissions and deaths – all remain very high and the recent change in pandemic must be taken very seriously. “

Dr Walensky said part of the increase could be attributed to newer variants of the coronavirus that spread more efficiently and quickly. The so-called variant B.1.1.7, which first appeared in Britain, now accounts for around 10% of all cases in the United States, up from 1% to 4% a few weeks ago, has she declared.

The ability of the United States to follow variants is much less robust than that of Great Britain. Even so, data collected by the CDC shows that the number of cases with the variant in the country rose from 76 in 12 states as of January 13 to more than 2,100 in 45 states as of Thursday. But actual infections can be much higher due to insufficient surveillance efforts.

“I know people are tired; they want to get back to life, to normal, ”said Dr Walensky. “But we are not there yet.”

Dr Walensky’s loud, vocal warnings made it clear that in the Biden administration, unlike the Trump administration, the CDC director had a powerful voice. Under President Donald J. Trump, the agency has been virtually silenced after one of its senior officials, Dr Nancy Messonnier, told reporters almost exactly a year ago that the coronavirus would cause serious disruption in American life.

At the same time, administration officials have tried to highlight their efforts to pull the country out of the pandemic, including stepping up the national coronavirus vaccination campaign, acquiring new therapies and training the private sector. in the battle.

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Biden seeks more control over postal service with new appointments

WASHINGTON – President Biden on Wednesday announced three nominees to fill vacant seats on the Postal Service’s board of governors, a move aimed at increasing Democratic influence over the future of the besieged agency.

If the nominees are confirmed by the Senate, the nominated Democrats and Democrats would win a majority on the nine-member board. This would give them the power to oust Louis DeJoy, a major Republican donor who has served as Postmaster General since last year, if they so choose. The council, not the president, hires and dismisses the Postmaster General.

The announcement came on the same day that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on how to address the post office’s widespread service and financial problems, marking the first time Mr. DeJoy has testified before lawmakers since the November election.

The postal service was propelled into the national spotlight last summer amid nationwide slowdowns that coincided with operational changes instituted by Mr DeJoy, sparking pre-election fears over postal voting delays . Democrats accused Mr DeJoy, a supporter of President Donald J. Trump, of attempting to curtail postal voting at a time when Mr Trump was also promoting a false narrative that he was rife with fraud .

But Mr DeJoy has also drawn fire for lingering delivery issues since the election, as the Postal Service struggles to find a stronger financial footing.

In his opening statement on Wednesday, DeJoy apologized for the slow delivery times of the service during the 2020 holiday season.

“We have to recognize that during this peak season we did not meet our service targets,” he said. “Too many Americans have had to wait weeks for major mail and parcel deliveries. This is unacceptable, and I apologize to customers who felt the impact of our delays. “

He promised the agency “would do better” and added: “Above all, my message is that the status quo is not acceptable to anyone.”

Mr Biden’s announcement was his most direct move to date to resolve the service’s issues. The presidential candidates are Anton Hajjar, former general counsel for the American Postal Workers Union; Amber McReynolds, Executive Director of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Ron Stroman, who resigned his post as Deputy Postmaster General last year and went on to participate in Mr Biden’s transition as head of the agency’s review team for the postal service .

“These experienced and tested leaders will ensure that the USPS operates to the highest standards of service and can effectively and efficiently serve all communities in our country,” the White House said in its announcement.

Mr DeJoy said postal executives had developed a 10-year strategy for the agency that would include “a commitment to provide delivery service six and seven days a week to every address in the country.”

He later admitted, however, that the Postal Service “is evaluating all service standards”, suggesting that it may not be able to meet its current criteria for timely mail delivery.

Lawmakers are debating a bill that would repeal, among other provisions, a financially burdensome requirement that the service pre-fund retiree health care. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed support for the changes.

But during the hearing, Republicans reminded the committee of last summer’s political fight amid delivery delays, calling on Democrats for what they saw as unfair charges against Mr DeJoy.

“Why should we believe that the enraged resistance is not going to continue?” said Rep. Jody B. Hice, Republican of Georgia. “If moving blue boxes and mail sorters and trying to make common sense to use overtime is somehow considered criminal activity by the postmaster, then what will happen to the plan? ‘business he is proposing?’

Delays last year sparked a series of lawsuits that forced the Postal Service to temporarily postpone operational changes. But service issues continued to plague the agency, and some Democrats have called on Mr Biden to replace the entire Postal Service Board.

Asked by Rep. Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, how long he planned to serve in his post, Mr. DeJoy replied, “A long time. Get used to me.

At another point, Mr DeJoy said Mr Biden did not call him to resign, nor did he have any board members.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, welcomed the president’s announcement on Wednesday, saying in a statement that it was a “milestone, and hopefully the start.” But Mr Pascrell added that Mr Biden should remove existing board members, who he said had “been silent and complicit in the sabotage of DeJoy.”

On Tuesday, the Postal Service selected Oshkosh Defense, a manufacturer of military vehicles, for a $ 482 million contract to supply the next generation of postal delivery trucks, rather than an electric vehicle maker.

Sheelagh McNeill contributed to the research.

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Fight against filibuster undergoes, for now, as Democrats assume full control of the Senate

WASHINGTON – The Senate delayed on Tuesday in organizing under new Democratic control after Republicans dropped their demand for a pledge that the filibuster would remain intact. But the early fight against the minority’s ability to block legislation heralded an epic battle ahead over what Democrats should do if Republicans obstruct President Biden’s agenda.

With Democrats already under pressure from progressives to overcome Republican dissent and implement Mr Biden’s top priorities – from a massive coronavirus aid package to legislation to tackle climate change and revise policies. immigration laws – the surge in obstruction has only intensified their dilemma.

“I am happy that we are finally able to make the Senate work,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, adding that Democrats intended to pursue “big, strong and audacious “against the Republican resistance if necessary.

“The work must move forward, preferably with our fellow Republicans, but without them if we have to.

The move came after Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, dropped his insistence that Democrats pledge to keep filibustering, a demand that effectively held their ability to take power hostage. control of Senate panels as a new majority.

Mr McConnell ultimately capitulated on the basis of assurances from two centrist Democratic senators who have long said they would not join their party in any effort to reverse the filibuster – and whose opposition would prevent Democrats from doing so in a Senate divided by 50 to 50. But his surrender has not appeased progressive activists who have long demanded that Senate Democrats reduce the procedural weapon. They pledged to keep up the pressure in their campaign to end filibuster – which actually requires 60 votes to move legislation forward – through advertising and other advocacy efforts.

“It’s a good victory, but it’s also just the start,” said Stasha Rhodes, campaign manager for the 51 for 51 group in the state of the District of Columbia and leader of the Just Democracy coalition, a assembly of dozens of racial and social justice. organizations seeking structural changes in the US government. “It was the first battle of a very long war. We did not win the election to lose the next four years.

Just Democracy was behind a new billboard in Times Square calling for an end to filibustering, calling it a relic of Jim Crow in an attempt to tie it in the public’s mind to his past use by segregationist lawmakers to block civil rights legislation.

Although Mr McConnell expressed confidence in the pro-filibuster commitments of Democratic Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, he seemed to recognize that the fight was far from over. In a detailed speech, he painted a grim picture of the Senate if Democrats attempted to change the filibuster, promising Republicans would use their minority muscle to cripple the chamber in response. The result, he said, would doom the democratic agenda.

“If the Democratic majority tackled the filibuster, it would guarantee itself immediate chaos,” McConnell warned. “If this majority became scorched earth, this body would come to a halt like we have never seen before.

“Taking the plunge would not be a progressive dream,” he said of the abolition of filibuster. “It would be a nightmare. I guarantee it.

Several Democrats have said it is up to Mr McConnell and his fellow Republicans to determine whether filibuster is threatened, arguing that if the minority party seeks to block Mr Biden’s agenda at every turn, it would be responsible for the destruction of the legendary Senate. armed.

“I’m focused on getting the Senate passed legislation that deals with the pandemic, the economy, our defense and our environment,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island. “The responsibility lies with Senate Minority Leader McConnell. He can either play a constructive role in this effort or create a wall of partisan obstruction and further threaten Senate traditions.

Despite the call for cooperation, Democrats were bracing for stiff Republican resistance to many of Biden’s proposals. Senate Republicans across the spectrum have raised concerns about elements of Mr. Biden’s proposal for $ 1.9 trillion in additional pandemic recovery programs.

In response, Democrats are preparing to advance recovery legislation in a process called reconciliation that is not subject to a filibuster. But the complex budget rules involved limit the type of proposals that can be included. Mr Schumer stressed on Tuesday that the party retains all options to pass a law.

Some progressives have said that Mr McConnell’s efforts to protect filibuster before the Senate was organized backfired by focusing attention on tactics and the likelihood that Republicans would go down heavily to slow down Mr. Biden’s initiatives. He also infuriated Democrats who were eager to take back the committee hammers they were entitled to after election victories gave the party control of the Senate. They found Mr. McConnell, relegated to the rank of Minority Leader, still standing in their way, which was infuriating.

“Senator McConnell’s failed attempt to seize power from the minority has made it more likely than ever to eliminate filibuster,” said Eli Zupnik, spokesperson for Fix Our Senate, another group opposed to the government. this practice. “In his attempt to divide Democrats and kill Biden’s legislative agenda before it even begins, Senator McConnell has succeeded in uniting Democrats in opposition to his cheeky gambit and underlining just how ready he is to do obstacle to everything and everything.

Democrats had never considered removing filibuster so early in their new term in the majority, knowing they had no voice to do so. But neither could Mr. Schumer remove the threat from the table or allow the standoff with Mr. McConnell to go on indefinitely. His concession spared Democrats a tough decision.

Past battles over filibuster have shown that agreements to avoid major changes in the way the Senate does business end up being part of changing senators and circumstances. Conflict also usually takes a while to develop into confrontation, as lawmakers must reach a point where even reluctant senators are prepared to overturn long-established precedents.

The substance of the legislation at stake would also be a factor, and Democrats would have to judge whether the risks of forgoing a powerful tactic when they lose their majority are worth the political rewards.

In 2005, when Republicans threatened to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for nominations after Democrats blocked a string of Bush administration appeals court candidates, a bipartisan “gang of 14” emerged for shape a compromise.

But the deal gradually disintegrated over the years, and another crisis emerged in 2013 when Republicans blocked several Obama administration candidates for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. . After initially agreeing to preserve the filibuster, Democrats failed to break a Republican blockade led by Mr McConnell and, months later, killed the 60-vote threshold for most candidates for election. Justice.

On Tuesday, Mr McConnell reminded Democrats he warned them at the time that they would regret the decision, and he pointed to the dozens of federal judges and three Republican Supreme Court justices benched during the Trump years.

“This ploy would not accelerate the ambitions of the Democrats,” he said of the desire to clear the filibuster. “It would delay them terribly.”

For now, Democrats appear poised to take their initial victory over Mr McConnell. But they have retained the option of targeting filibuster if they find Republicans engaging in what they see as undue obstruction.

“We are united in the fact that we need big, bold changes in America,” Schumer said Tuesday, “and we will find the best way to make it happen.”

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Video: “ We took control of the Capitol ”: looking for jurors accused of conspiracy

new video loaded: “ We took the Capitol ”: hunting down jurors accused of conspiracy

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Despite the chaos and heavy losses, Republicans still control most of Georgia

A certain calculation has already started. This week, Erick Erickson, an influential conservative radio host and Trump critic, called for the resignation of Republican Party of Georgia Chairman David Shafer, a staunch supporter of the president who also promulgated allegations of electoral fraud following the loss of Mr. Trump. Mr. Erickson argued that this strategy, which could have depressed the Republicans’ desire to run in the second round, went against the interests of the Republicans. (Mr. Shafer could not be reached for comment.)

The invasion of the U.S. Capitol could also continue to have political repercussions in Georgia. On Friday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a robocall asking Trump supporters to march on Capitol Hill and “fight to protect the integrity of our elections” was launched by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a branch of the Republican Attorneys General. Association. This group is chaired by Chris Carr, the Attorney General of Georgia.

Katie Byrd, spokesperson for Mr Carr, said Friday that Mr Carr had “no knowledge” of the decision to launch the robocall and noted that he had publicly condemned “the violence and destruction that we saw at the US Capitol ”.

And despite some of the positive signs, Republicans are also weighing in on how the final days of the Trump era weakened them and ruminate on the future of their party’s collective identity. Trey Allen, a Republican commissioner from Columbia County, near Augusta, said the party should go beyond being defined by one personality and focus on classic conservative themes that are still popular with many voters. Georgians.

“We hope to tighten our agenda,” said Mr. Allen, a self-proclaimed Reagan Republican who voted twice for Mr. Trump, “and we’ll focus on the things that make Conservatives what they are: a strong economy, a strong economy, a strong economy. strong army, less government. , more freedoms. “

Mr Duncan said Republicans should prioritize politics over personality. He envisioned what he described as “GOP 2.0,” a version of the party that embraced traditional conservative ideals while being more empathetic and having a softer tone, to win back voters who rejected Mr. Trump’s vitriolic style. .

“If we don’t learn from our mistakes,” he said, “we will continue to lose from our mistakes. Now is a great time to kick off GOP 2.0 and realize that we can never let a person be more important than a party. “

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Despite the chaos and heavy losses, Republicans still control most of Georgia

“I think an overwhelming majority of voters will come back in our direction and reward us,” Duncan said. “And if they don’t see that as a valuable trait of their lieutenant governor, then I don’t want to represent them. I will be perfectly fine to be defeated if they don’t reward or recognize the value of honesty and integrity. I’m not their guy.

When Mr. Trump stepped out of the equation, Republicans’ fundamentals are indeed strong in Georgia, at least for the immediate future. Every statewide elected office in state government is currently in the hands of Republicans. And Democrats, who hoped to make big inroads into the state legislature, won just two State House seats and one state Senate seat in the November election, leaving Republicans with a comfortable majority. in both bedrooms.

That means Republicans will control the 10-year overhaul of legislative district and congressional maps this year, giving them the ability to protect their own and create new problems for some incumbent Democratic office holders. In the legislative session that begins Monday, Republicans promise to impose new strict limits on voting following a record turnout.

Republican lawmakers and state officials have discussed eliminating the absentee vote without excuse, which has gained popularity in the pandemic. They also considered eliminating drop boxes for mail-in ballots, limiting unsolicited mail-in ballot requests and requiring photo ID for mail-in ballots.

Georgia Republican House Speaker David Ralston said he was unlikely to support eliminating absentee voting without excuse. But any attempt to curtail the current system will likely be cited by Democrats as examples of voter suppression, a charge they have leveled against Mr Kemp, a former secretary of state, for years.

Additionally, Reverend Raphael Warnock, one of the two winners of the Democratic Senate this week along with Jon Ossoff, will have to stand for re-election in 2022, as by defeating Senator Kelly Loeffler he technically ends the former senator’s tenure in retired Johnny Isakson. He is likely to be a prime target for national Republicans.

Activists who have helped spur participation and support Democrats know they have their work cut out for them.

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The victories in Georgia give the Democrats control of the Senate.

Democrats took control of the Senate on Wednesday by winning both races in Georgia’s second round, an electoral repudiation by President Trump that will give the incoming Democratic administration greater political leeway even as the victory has been temporarily overshadowed by the violent Trump supporters who stormed the United States Capitol. the name of the evicted holder.

The election of Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff was a political triumph for the Democratic Party in a state that has blocked it for decades. It was also a jarring split-screen encapsulation of the policies of progress and grievances that defined Mr. Trump’s administration and the changing country he has sworn to serve.

On the same day Georgia elected Mr. Ossoff, a 33-year-old Jewish documentary maker, and Mr. Warnock, a 51-year-old pastor who would become the state’s first black senator, an almost all-white crowd of aggrieved Trump . partisans, some carrying Confederate flags, descended on Washington to challenge political reality.

Mr Warnock’s Twitter feed showed how quickly the mood of Democrats has changed. At 1:55 p.m. EST, he wire rack his victory by thanking Georgian voters, saying he was “forever grateful”. In two hours it was quoting another pastor from Ebenezer Baptist Church – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – with a message of solidarity in the face of hatred and bigotry.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do it,” Mr Warnock wrote. “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can.” He added, in his own words: “May each of us try to be a light to see our country come out of this dark moment.”

Georgia has not sent a Democrat to the Senate for two decades, and the party has succeeded this year by focusing heavily on voter registration and turnout, especially in suburban counties and Atlanta and Savannah. . It was a strategy devised in part by Stacey Abrams, a former state House leader and gubernatorial candidate, who focused on tackling voter suppression in the state.

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Charles Kushner tells a friend that Trump’s behavior is “beyond our control.”

Charles Kushner, father of President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, admitted in an email to a close confidant on Wednesday that the president’s behavior was “beyond our control.”

Bob Sommer, a longtime friend of the Kushner family who once represented the family-owned real estate company, Kushner Companies, has erupted in anger at Mr Kushner, who last month received a presidential pardon from Mr Trump.

“I also texted jared,” said Sommer, who served as president of the Observer. He urged his former client to please “get the trump card of being an American” instead of a curse.

Mr. Kushner did not dispute his qualification as president. “I got it and out of our control,” he replied, according to a copy of the email exchange obtained by The New York Times.

Mr Kushner, 66, pleaded guilty in 2004 to 16 counts of tax evasion, one count of retaliation against a federal witness and one count of lying to the Federal Election Commission in a case that was also a sinister family drama. He served two years in prison before being released in 2006. His pardon last month was one of the most anticipated of the Trump presidency.

Mr Sommer also texted the president’s daughter and Jared Kushner’s wife Ivanka Trump after she called the protesters “American patriots” in a Twitter message on Wednesday. Mr Sommer wrote that he was “horrified to have attended your wedding”. She did not answer.

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Air traffic control center shutdown for virus cleanup halts flights to Dallas

An air traffic control center serving Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was closed for several hours on Wednesday for cleaning after an employee tested positive for coronavirus, failing flights at one of the busiest hubs. busiest in the world.

The Central Disturbance – which handles high-altitude air traffic for most of northern Texas, northwestern Louisiana, eastern New Mexico, and southern Oklahoma and Arkansas – caused ripples of delays and diverted flights across the country.

The Fort Worth air traffic control center suspended operations from 3:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. so that the facility could be disinfected, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which said Wednesday evening that a single confluence of events and bad weather had led to the disruption.

The FAA said the employee last worked at the center on Christmas Day, which was in a seven-day window that required a more thorough level of cleaning in areas where the employee may have been.

“Because the cleanup required controllers to temporarily leave the control room, the FAA declared a ground stop, which held back traffic at the departure facilities,” the agency said on its Facebook page. He said other FAA facilities supported the closure and worked with traffic around the affected airspace.

Positive cases have been reported 22 times at the center, according to an FAA website. It was not immediately clear whether there had been any previous closures at the facility, which according to an FAA training manual is responsible for 140,000 square nautical miles of airspace.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field have both reported significant disruptions to their operations.

“The FAA closed the airspace inside and outside of DFW Airport until 5:00 p.m. Central time,” Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport said in a statement. “This is due to a mandatory sanitation cleanup of the FAA offsite facilities that control the airspace in DFW. This will result in delayed or possibly canceled flights. “

The airport, which served around 75 million passengers last year before the pandemic, has urged travelers to check with airlines for changes to their flights.

A spokesperson for Love Field, which is operated by the city of Dallas, said departures and arrivals were temporarily suspended at the airport.

“The estimate we received for the return to normal operations was 1-2 hours and that was about an hour ago,” spokesman Chris Perry said in an email around 4:45 p.m. , local hour.

About an hour later, an FAA spokeswoman said a ground stop was lifted. It also noted that the flights crossing the airspace served by the control center had continued to operate and had been able to communicate with other control centers. The spokeswoman said air traffic could still be affected by the weather in the area, where there were thunderstorms Wednesday evening.

“The FAA takes the safety of its employees and the flying public very seriously,” the agency said on its Facebook page. “Please note that throughout this event, the pilots were always in contact with the air traffic control employees, whether at the Fort Worth air traffic control center or other air traffic control facilities. air traffic. “

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is a hub for American Airlines, which has released a barrage of social media posts from travelers expressing their frustrations. It was not immediately clear how many of the airline’s flights had been disrupted. The airline did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Isaak Thurber said his flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport had been affected by the ground stop.

“Halfway through my flight, the pilot arrives on the intercom to tell us that DFW airspace has been closed due to ‘covid issues’ and we don’t know what to do”, Mr. Thurber said on twitter. “Now we have landed in Oklahoma City. I must love 2020. ”

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Biden’s choice of Pentagon revives debate over civilian control of the military

“Former generals like SecDef should be the exception, not the norm,” said Rep. Michael Waltz, Republican of Florida and former Army Green Beret, said in a twitter message. He praised Ms Flournoy as being qualified on a range of pressing issues, including the defense industrial base and China, and added: “Too bad the appointment of the first woman SecDef is not ‘diverse’ enough for # Biden and House Dems.

Representative Elissa Slotkin, Michigan Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that she had “deep respect” for General Austin, but noted: “Pick another recently retired general to occupy a role designed for a civilian just does not feel. The post of Secretary of Defense is specially designed to provide civilian oversight of the army. “

Other Democrats on the Senate committee, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a veteran, voted against the waiver for Mr. Mattis and are expected to reject one for Mr. Biden’s candidate.

Several academics who have studied civil-military relations, including some who have supported a waiver for Mr Mattis, also say they are opposed to such a move this time around.

“Mattis, like Marshall, was an emergency; it is not, ”said Eliot A. Cohen, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former Pentagon official. “The law prohibiting recently serving officers from serving as secretary of defense is strong and there are many good civilian candidates. It is a violation of civil-military standards.

General Austin, 67, is the only African American to have led the Army Central Command, the renowned Combat Command, responsible for most places the United States is at war, including Iraq. , Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. Mr Biden has spent time during his years as Vice President in the White House Situation Room with General Austin and has had a level of personal comfort with him that he deems essential for the role, said people familiar with his thinking.

The Congressional Black Caucus also lent its support on Tuesday behind the retired general. “Black Americans have sacrificed their lives for this country in every war since the Revolutionary War,” the caucus said in a statement. “The appointment of retired General Lloyd Austin to a post of command and authority over the United States military, just behind the President of the United States, is historic and well deserved.”

Helene Cooper and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.