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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

Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan

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  • President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus proposal on Thursday.
  • Under the plan, $1 trillion would go to direct relief for Americans. This includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension and $400 weekly increase to federal unemployment benefits, and a $15 minimum wage.
  • The proposal would also allocate $440 billion for aid to local governments and businesses, as well as provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus with more testing and vaccinations, among other efforts.

Biden Outlines Direct Aid in Stimulus Plan

President-elect Joe Biden announced the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package while speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday.

Biden described the package, titled “American Rescue Plan,” as a set of emergency measures to immediately address the country’s economic and healthcare needs. The package will be followed by a second, broader relief package in February, which will aim to address more long-term economic recovery efforts.

Most significantly, $1 trillion — more than half of the funding allocated in the first package — will go to direct relief for Americans. Among other measures, the direct aid provisions in the plan include increasing federal unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extending them from March to September.

Biden’s plan also includes $1,400 stimulus checks to top off the $600 already approved in the December stimulus package. However, eligibility for the direct payments would be expanded to families of non-citizen immigrants as well as families with adult dependents.

Additionally, the proposal includes several other measures targeted at directly helping struggling Americans, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, adding billions in funding for child care, and expanding the child tax credit to poor and middle-class families.

Broader Goals

As for the broader economic and pandemic-centered measures, Biden’s package would allocate $440 billion for aid to states, local governments, and businesses. It would also provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus, with a major focus on expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution.

Biden has set the dual goals of delivering 100 million vaccines and reopening the majority of K-12 public schools in his first 100 days. To meet that objective, his plan includes $20 billion for a universal vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, and $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.

The proposal, overall, meets many of the demands for direct aid that Democrats have pushed for months but have been unable to approve with the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats hold the presidency and control of both chambers, many members have urged Biden to ask for an even higher price tag.

Biden, for his part, has said he would like to try for a bipartisan majority on his first piece of legislation, but given Republicans months-long resistance to many Democratic asks, that desire is likely a pipe-dream.

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

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Democrats Ask for Investigation into GOP Members Aiding Rioters

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  • More than 30 House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday demanding that security officials look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” at the Capitol the day before last week’s insurrection.
  • The lawmakers claimed they “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting, including guests who “appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day.”
  • The letter comes one day after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) accused her Republican colleagues of bringing rioters into the Capitol the day before for “reconnaissance.” 
  • Notably, neither the letter nor Sherill herself directly named any members, and these claims have not yet been verified.

Demands for Investigation

Congressional Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether Republican representatives aided the Capitol rioters who lead last Wednesday’s insurrection.

In a letter signed by 31 members Wednesday, lawmakers asked the acting House and Senate Sergeants at Arms to look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” the day right before the attack. 

In that letter, the Democrats say that they as well as some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol.

They pointed out that was unusual because the building has restricted public access since March as part of pandemic protocols. Since then, tourists have only been allowed to enter the Capitol if they were brought in by a member of Congress.

The members found the tours “so concerning” that they reported them to the Sergeant at Arms the same day.

“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” the letter continued. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” 

The demands come after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (R-NJ) claimed during a Facebook livestream Tuesday that she saw Republican representatives bringing now-identified rioters into the Capitol the day before the riots for “reconnaissance.” Sherrill also alleged that some of her GOP colleagues “abetted” Trump and “incited this violent crowd.”

Members Under Fire

Neither the letter nor Sherill have directly named any members, and none of these claims have yet been verified. However, over the last few days, a number of Republicans have been condemned for their perceived involvement in inciting the rioters.

In a now-deleted video, right-wing conspiracy theorist and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander claimed he had planned the rally that took place before the riot with the help of three House Republicans: Paul Gosar (Az.), Andy Biggs (Az.), and Mo Brooks (Al.). All three men voted to undermine the will of the American people and throw out the electoral votes in Arizona following the insurrection. 

Biggs and Brooks have both denied that they have any involvement, but Gosar, who tagged Alexander in a tweet he posted just hours before the attack, has not responded to any requests for comment from several outlets.

“Biden should concede,” Gosar wrote. “I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there. #StopTheSteaI2021”

While Brooks has denied any involvement in planning the rally, his remarks to the would-be domestic terrorists at the event have sparked widespread condemnation.

“Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” he told the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”

Some House Democrats introduced resolutions to censure Brooks for his comments. Other members have also been pushing to invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, a relic of the post-Civil War era which disqualifies people who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding public office. 

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) has also received 47 co-sponsored on her proposed resolution that would start investigations for “removal of the members who attempted to overturn the results of the election and incited a white supremacist attempted coup.”

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

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House Impeaches Trump By Largest Bipartisan Margin in History

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  • The House voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
  • Ten Republicans broke party ranks to vote in favor of impeachment, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
  • Ahead of the vote, sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he was pleased Democrats were moving forward with a vote because it will make it easier to “purge” Trump from the party.
  • McConnel later said he has not yet decided whether he will vote to convict Trump. Still, he has refused to convene the Senate before Jan. 19, meaning that as of now, there is little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before his term ends.

House Debates Impeachment

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 232 to 197 to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.

All Democrats voted in favor of the single article. They were also joined by 10 Republicans, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.

The decision was debated on the floor after Vice President Pence rejected Democrats’ calls to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Trump from office.

Most notable among the Republican members who voted to impeach was Liz Cheney (R-WY), the number three House Republican who announced her decision Tuesday night.

“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in a statement.

Questionable Path in Senate

No Republican Senators have publicly said they support removing Trump from office.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he “has told associates that he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party.”

Sources separately told Axios that “there’s a better than 50-50 chance” that McConnell would vote to convict Trump.

McConnell responded to the reports earlier on Wednesday but did not outright dispute many of the claims.

“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.

As for whether or not other members of the GOP would follow suit, a top Republican close to McConnell also told Axios that “Senate institutional loyalists are fomenting a counterrevolution” to Trump. 

Additionally, McConnell’s advisers have said that he has “privately speculated that a dozen Republican senators — and possibly more — could ultimately vote to convict.” Notably, it would most likely require 17 Republicans to join Democrats in order for Trump to be found guilty.

In regards to a timeline, the Senate is in recess and not set to reconvene until Jan. 19, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration. McConnell has rejected calls to ask that members return before then, meaning that as of right now there is very little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before he leaves office.

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

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