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Three Puerto Rican Officials Fired After Unused Hurricane Maria Aid Found in Warehouse

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  • A video streamed on Facebook Live revealed a warehouse in Puerto Rico stockpiled with unused water, food, medicine, and other emergency supplies from Hurricane Maria.
  • The discovery comes as the island has been rocked by numerous earthquakes, destroying many buildings and leaving thousands without homes.
  • Three officials have been fired over the incident, and protests have broken out calling for the governor to resign.
  • Last week, the Trump Administration released $8.2 billion in aid designated to the island for hurricane recovery after Democrats and Puerto Ricans condemned Trump for withholding the aid over concerns of corruption and mismanagement.  

Aid Discovered 

Three Puerto Rican officials have been fired since a viral video streamed on Facebook Live on Saturday revealed a warehouse containing unused food, water, and other emergency supplies stockpiled from Hurricane Maria.

The video, taken in the southern city of Ponce, was taken by a blogger named Lorenzo Delgado, who filmed himself entering the warehouse. Delgado told reporters that he had been tipped off about the warehouse but did not provide a source.

The live stream quickly prompted massive outrage on social media, and Delgado was soon joined by many others, some of whom took supplies from the warehouse.

Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez quickly responded by firing the island’s director of emergency management, Carlos Acevedo. She then called for an investigation.

Acevedo defended his department and his actions and said that while some of the water in the warehouse had been distributed, the other goods were not needed because there was not a shortage of supplies in the area.

Vázquez, however, said she had not been informed about the warehouse until the viral video, and the next day she also fired Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar.

“They weren’t able to personally tell me specifically where these centers were located, what they contained and whether an inventory was completed,” the governor said Sunday.

But many Puerto Ricans believe that Vázquez is responsible.

Activists on Monday called for island-wide demonstrations calling for the Vázquez to resign. In the capital San Juan, protestors gathered in front of the governor’s mansion.

The recent protests and posts on social media resemble similar protests back in August demanding that then-governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign. 

Those protests started after private messages were leaked that showed the governor and his close advisers mocking ordinary Puerto Ricans, among other things. But the movement quickly morphed into broader protests against government corruption and the botched response to Maria, eventually prompting Rosselló to step down.

Earthquakes

The discovery of the aid in the Ponce warehouse comes as Puerto Rico has been shaken by significant earthquakes and tremors for nearly a month now.

Since December 28, the island has experienced ongoing earthquakes of varying sizes. The biggest was a 6.4 magnitude that hit on Tuesday, Jan. 7, immediately following a 5.8 magnitude quake the day before.

The island was hit again with a 5.9 magnitude on Sunday, Jan. 11.

The earthquakes have created devastation all over the island, causing houses, schools, churches, and other buildings to collapse. Earthquakes of these magnitudes might not cause so much wreckage in other places, but Puerto Rico is riddled with buildings not up to code or retrofitted for earthquake resilience.

As a result, thousands of people have been displaced, with many seeking shelter in government camps. Thousands of others whose houses are still intact have also taken to sleeping in their cars or outside in public areas out of fear that their houses will collapse on them.

These earthquakes are a massive setback for Puerto Ricans, who are still struggling to recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

Many of those recovery efforts have been stalled by allegations of government corruption and mismanagement of disaster relief and funding, which in turn has caused levels of distrust in the government among Puerto Ricans, especially as numerous high-ranking officials have been arrested on corruption charges.

This has been the subject of recent tensions between Puerto Rico and the Donald Trump Administration.

Trump has long accused Puerto Rican leaders of corruption, which he has cited for his administration’s efforts to delay disaster aid after Maria.

For a while now, the administration has been criticized for withholding more than $18 billion in federal funding that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designated to the island after Maria.

After the earthquakes, those criticisms were sparked again by both Democrats and Puerto Ricans. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the withholding of aid “illegal,” and others called on the president and HUD to release the aid.

The Trump administration did approve the aid Wednesday, though it also placed strict restrictions on how the aid can be spent. The same day, Trump also approved a major emergency declaration in the areas of Puerto Rico most affected by the earthquakes.

That declaration will allow federal funds to be allocated to the island, though it is unclear how much.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Fox News) (NBC News)

Politics

Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent

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California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 


CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.

Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.

Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.

“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.

Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.

Others May Follow

The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.

Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.

“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Los Angeles Times) (The Sacramento Bee)

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