- Two months after announcing a ban on most flavored e-cigarettes, President Donald Trump is stepping away from the move, according to reports from The New York Times and The Washington Post.
- Trump first announced this plan to address the rise of vaping related illnesses, which have now killed 42 people and left 2,000 falling ill.
- Reports say Trump switched course because polls in battleground states showed voters who vape oppose the restrictions.
Trump Walks Back Ban
President Donald Trump is stepping back from his plan to ban most flavored electronic cigarettes fearing it could hurt him in 2020.
His plan was announced just two months ago as vaping-related illnesses, which have now killed 42 people, made constant headlines. Public health officials had long been urging for government action.
According to the Washington Post, his reverse on this ban started back on November 4 when he was briefed during a flight to a campaign rally, and refused to sign the decision memo.
The Post says an anonymous Trump advisor told them that “he didn’t want to move forward with a ban he had once backed, primarily at his wife’s and daughter’s urging, because he feared it would lead to job losses.”
One week after this, he tweeted about meeting with vaping industry representatives and medical professionals to “come up with an acceptable solution” for the vaping epidemic. He cited jobs as a priority.
Potential Consequences in 2020
Reports indicated that this fear of job losses is tied to a fear of this ban hurting his reelection chances. If small businesses that profited off of vaping go out of business because of the ban, the move could cost him voters.
There was also vocal dissent present online. Many used the hashtag #IVapeIVote to encourage Trump to not go through with the ban. Some critics also argued that according to the Center for Disease Control, 85% of those who fell ill from vaping were using THC products which are often from the black market, meaning a government-mandated ban could be ineffective.
According to the New York Times, this translated in polls. They cite one conducted by one of his campaign pollsters for the Vapor Technology Association that showed “negative results” in battleground states among voters who vape. This poll was shown to his campaign manager.
The Times also said that among his supporters, pushback against the ban went further than polls.
“Taking away the right to smoke or vape would be something akin to taking away firearms,” The Times said.
Future for Vaping and Legislation
This does not necessarily mean the ban is fully over. Several reports say there is still a chance a door could open for it later down the road. White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere issued a statement suggesting this could be the case but made no promises.
“President Trump and this Administration are committed to responsibly protecting the health of children,” he said. “At this time, we are in an ongoing rulemaking process, and I will not speculate on the final outcome.”
The Trump administration is not alone in working on flavored vaping bans. Several states, including Michigan, New York, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Rhode Island and Montana have either announced or enacted a ban on types of flavored e-cigarettes. Some, however, have been blocked in courts.
Back in October, Juul also said it would stop selling its fruity flavors and limit its marketing towards teens and children.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (New York Times) (Slate)
Former Capitol Security Officials Blame Intelligence Failures for Insurrection
- During the Senate’s first hearing into security failures that lead to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, top officials provided new insights but shirked responsibility.
- Many blamed the FBI for not gathering more information or properly communicating what they did know, arguing that the breakdown was a result of the intelligence community not taking domestic extremism seriously.
- Police leaders noted that a bulletin from an FBI field office warning of a “war” at the Capitol, issued a day before the insurrection, was not properly flagged or delivered.
- However, others noted that the Capitol Police had in fact issued an internal alert three days before warning of similar threats.
Security Officials Shirk Responsibility
Former top officials responsible for security at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection testified before the Senate for the first time Tuesday.
While the testimonies represented the most detailed accounts of the security failures leading up to and during attacks, they also raised questions about how those failures came out.
The top officials did acknowledge some of their own mistakes and admitted they were unprepared for such an event. Still, they largely deflected responsibility for the breakdown in communication and instead blamed intelligence officials, their subordinates, and even each other at times.
All of the officials testified that the FBI and the intelligence community had failed to detect information about the intentions of the pro-Trump insurrectionists and properly relay what they did know before the attack.
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee depicted the collapse in communication as a broader failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to take domestic extremism as seriously as foreign threats.
Specifically, both officials mentioned this in the context of a bulletin issued a day before the insurrection by the FBI’s office in Norfolk, Virginia. That bulletin warned of a “war” at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
In his testimony, Sund — who resigned the day after the insurrection — disclosed for the first time that the alter had in fact been sent to the Capitol Police through the Joint Terrorism Task Force but said it was never forwarded to him or either of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms.
Contee also said the D.C. police department received the warning, but it was a nondescript email and not labeled as a priority alert that would demand immediate attention.
“I would certainly think that something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call or something,” he told the Senators.
However, lawmakers pointed out that the Capitol Police did have warnings about the attack in the form of their own internal intelligence report issued three days before the planned pro-Trump rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol.
In that 12-page memo, some of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the Capitol Police intelligence unit warned that “Congress itself” could be targeted by Trump supporters who believed the electoral college certification was “the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election.”
The memo also noted the large expected crowds, the fact that organizers had urged Trump supporters to bring guns and combat gear, and that “President Trump himself” had been promoting the chaos.
Two people familiar with the memo told The Post that the report had been relayed to all Capitol Police command staff, though in their testimonies Tuesday, the former security officials said the intel they had did not have enough specifics about the potential for an attack.
Some, however, appear to doubt the series of events detailed by Sund. On Tuesday, Buzzfeed filed a lawsuit against the Capitol Police for records related to the insurrection. The agency has been criticized for not providing enough information to the media, and contradictory testimonies delivered to Senators likely raised more red flags.
Lawmakers Emphasize Need for Better Precautions
The argument that there was so much vague, threatening online chatter making it hard to distinguish what was legitimate is something that many law enforcement officials have used to explain their failure to prepare for the attacks.
In fact, that was the exact same response the FBI gave reporters Tuesday after Sund and Contee blamed them for not giving an explicit or strong enough warning. Lawmakers hope that the many hearings and ongoing investigations into the matter will result in tangible policy changes to prevent similar attacks from happening again.
While it is currently unclear what that will look like, many leaders have emphasized the need for a broad rethinking of how the U.S. addresses domestic extremist threats at every level.
“There’s no question in my mind that there was a failure to take this threat more seriously, despite widespread social media content and public reporting that indicated violence was extremely likely,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mi.) told reporters Tuesday.
“The federal government must start taking these online threats seriously to ensure they don’t cross into the real-world violence.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)
Illinois Rep. Files Bill To Ban Video Games Like “Grand Theft Auto” Amid Carjacking Spikes
- Illinois State Rep. Marcus Evans (D) has proposed a bill that would crack down on certain video games in hopes of reducing a dramatic uptick in Chicago carjackings.
- Illinois law currently bans people from selling “violent video games” to minors; however, Evans’ bill seeks to ban the sale of “violent video games” to anyone in the state.
- Among other language, Evans is seeking to expand the state definition of “serious physical harm” related to video games so that it includes “motor vehicle theft with a driver or passenger present inside the vehicle when the theft begins.”
- A number of gamers have criticized the bill, calling it a misguided approach for reducing violence in the state.
“Grand Theft Auto” Bill
Illinois State Representative Marcus Evans (D) has filed a bill that, if passed, would ban the sale of violent video games to anyone in the state.
While the bill does address the frequent debate around whether gun violence in video games inspires real-world violence, Evans is actually filing the bill primarily in response to a series of carjackings in Chicago. In fact, the bill was largely conceived with the game “Grand Theft Auto” in mind.
“‘Grand Theft Auto’ and other violent video games are getting in the minds of our young people and perpetuating the normalcy of carjacking,” Evans said. “Carjacking is not normal and carjacking must stop.”
According to the Chicago-Sun Times, Chicago saw 1,400 carjackings in 2020 — double that of what it saw in 2019. That’s now continued into this year, with 241 carjackings already reported in the city as of Monday. Earlier this week, police charged two boys, ages 13 and 14, with stealing a man’s car after holding him at gunpoint.
The latest addition to the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise was released in 2013. Notably, Chicago carjacking rates in 2013, 2014, and 2015 were the lowest of the previous decade.
The bill Evans has filed would amend a current Illinois law that restricts the sale of “violent video games” to minors.
As part of his amendment to include all age groups, Evans wants to update the definition of “violent video game” under state law to include games that “perpetuate human-on-human violence in which the player kills or otherwise causes serious physical or psychological harm to another human or an animal.”
Evans also wants to update the definition of “serious physical harm” related to video games so that it would include “psychological harm and child abuse, sexual abuse, animal abuse, domestic violence, violence against women, or motor vehicle theft with a driver or passenger present inside the vehicle when the theft begins.”
Gamers Say Evans’ Argument Is Misplaced
Among gamers, Evans’ bill has reignited conversations around video games and violence.
“Carjackings have happened before games and Marcus Evans thinks today that it’s the fault of video games like GTA?” one person tweeted. “I never had any need for committing crimes playing games my whole life.”
See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Fox 32 Chicago) (NME)
California Lawmakers Pass $7.6 Billion Stimulus Package With $600 Checks
- The California State Legislature approved a $7.6 billion stimulus package Monday that will send out around 5.7 million stimulus checks to qualifying state residents.
- Most of the direct payments will be given to people who make under $30,000 a year.
- Over half a million will go to people who have an individual tax identification number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number and an annual income of under $75,000. Most people with ITINs are immigrants, and none were eligible for the federal stimulus checks.
- Additional provisions of the bill include over $2 billion in grants and fee waivers for small businesses as well as $35 million for food and diaper banks, among other things.
California Stimulus Bill
California legislators passed a $7.6 billion stimulus package Monday that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has said he will sign on Tuesday.
Among other measures, the bill would send out stimulus checks worth $600 to qualifying people. According to reports, $2.3 trillion — nearly a third of the whole package — will be used to send out roughly 5.7 million direct payments.
Around 3.8 million of those checks will go to Californians that make less than $30,000 annually and thus qualify for the state earned income tax credit. Officials have said that Californians who claim the credit on their 2020 taxes can expect to receive their money within four to seven weeks of filing.
Another 1.2 million residents who receive either federal or state supplemental income will get the checks, and 405,000 additional payments will be placed directly on the EBT cards of CalWORKS participants, the state’s welfare-to-work program.
Notably, about 565,000 stimulus payments will go out to people who have what’s known as an individual tax identification number (ITIN) rather than a Social Security number. Most of those people are immigrants, and no one with an ITIN received either of the last two federal stimulus payments.
As a result, the California stimulus bill will give out $600 payments to people with ITIN’s who make below $75,000 a year, and a total of $1,200 to those who make $30,000 and qualify for the earned income tax credit.
In addition to the direct payments, the legislation also includes more than $2 billion in grants and fee waivers for small businesses, $30 million for food banks, and $5 million for diaper banks. The legislature is also expected to approve an additional $2 billion in tax breaks for businesses later this week, which would effectively bring the total package to $9.6 billion.
U.S. House To Pass Federal Stimulus Package This Week
The California package comes as Democrats in Congress are hashing out the details of the next federal coronavirus relief bill.
On Monday, President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package advanced through the House Budget Committee, and according to reports, barring any major objections, it is expected to be passed by the chamber as soon as Friday or Saturday.
The hard part, however, will be getting it passed through the Senate, where all 50 Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris will need to approve the legislation. In order to ensure that some of the more moderate members are on board, leadership will likely have to have to hold negotiations and possibly scrap certain parts of the House’s version of the package.
One provision on the chopping block is a measure that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, which has already drawn opposition from at least two Democratic Senators.