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News & Politics Thread (Part 5)

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    Joe Biden picks Pete Buttigieg to be transportation secretary

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Pete Buttigieg to be his transportation secretary, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, elevating the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to a top post in the federal government.

    Buttigieg would be the first Senate-confirmed LGBTQ Cabinet secretary should his nomination make it through the chamber.

    The choice vaults a candidate Biden spoke glowingly of after the Democratic primary into a top job in the incoming administration and could earn Buttigieg what many Democrats believe is needed experience should he run for president again.

    The role of transportation secretary is expected to play a central role in Biden’s push for a bipartisan infrastructure package.

    Buttigieg is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party but someone who lacked an obvious path to higher elected office given the continued rightward shift of his home state of Indiana.

    Buttigieg emerged as the leading candidate for the transportation secretary role in recent days. The former mayor was considered for a host of other posts, including US ambassador to the United Nations and commerce secretary.

    Other Democrats were also considered for the post, including former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.

    After ending his presidential campaign earlier in the year, Buttigieg endorsed Biden and spent much of the general election headlining fundraisers and events for the former vice president.

    Biden praised Buttigieg at a March event in Dallas, comparing him to his late son Beau Biden.

    “I know that may not mean much to most people, but to me it’s the highest compliment I can give any man or woman,” Joe Biden said at the time.

    Prior to running for president, Buttigieg had served as the mayor of South Bend since 2012. He did not seek reelection in 2019.

    During his tenure as mayor, Buttigieg in 2014 deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer.

    Buttigieg came out as gay in a 2015 essay for the South Bend Tribune while serving as mayor. Later that year, Buttigieg won reelection.

    Prior to running for office, Buttigieg was a consultant at McKinsey & Company in Chicago.

    This is story is breaking and will be updated.

    CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

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    Biden poised to nominate former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to lead Department of Energy

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden is poised to tap former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to lead the Department of Energy, two people familiar with the matter say, inviting a longtime adviser who played a critical role in his debate preparations over the years to join his Cabinet.

    Granholm has long taken a deep interest in energy issues and was considered to be a top candidate for Energy secretary if Hillary Clinton had won four years ago. Now, she will have her chance, if confirmed by the Senate.

    Energy secretary, along with Transportation and other posts, are expected to be announced later this week as Biden works to select his Cabinet by Christmas.

    Granholm is a former CNN contributor.

    The Biden transition team declined to comment to CNN on the selection, first reported by Politico. CNN has reached out to Granholm’s team for comment.

    Granholm served two terms as governor of Michigan and was first elected in 2002. She was the first woman to be elected governor of the state, and in 2006 was elected with the largest number of votes ever cast at the time for the state, according to her biography page on the state’s official website.

    Prior to being elected governor, Granholm was elected as the state’s attorney general in 1998, and was also the first woman to serve in that role.

    Granholm, if confirmed by the Senate, would help Biden carry out his ambitious energy plan. The President-elect has proposed spending $2 trillion over four years on clean energy projects and ending carbon emissions from power plants by 2035. The plan would create union jobs in clean energy and through projects such as the construction of electric vehicle charging stations, updating electric grids, expanding broadband internet access and more.

    As governor of Michigan, Granholm had worked closely with the auto industry, the dominant industry in the Great Lakes State, which could help Biden as he attempts to move the country toward electric vehicles.

    During the 2008 financial crisis, Granholm found herself in the national spotlight as she pushed for an auto industry bailout. Biden and Granholm worked closely to implement the recovery act in those early years of the Obama administration. Biden often talks about this work to save auto jobs, many of which came from Michigan.

    In addition to overseeing the nation’s energy supply, the US Department of Energy is tasked with maintaining a safe and secure nuclear deterrent and reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation.

    Granholm was a federal prosecutor in Detroit and was later appointed to Wayne County Corporation Counsel. Granholm began her career in public service as a judicial clerk for Michigan’s 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

    This story has been updated with additional information about Granholm.

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    Hill leaders eye new round of stimulus checks as part of $900 billion Covid relief deal

    (CNN) Congressional leaders, after months of a bitter stalemate and as millions of Americans have been eager for relief, are finally indicating they’re nearing a deal on a new rescue package that could pass both chambers within days.

    The price tag for a stimulus deal could be close to $900 billion, a source familiar tells CNN, though more details could be out later Wednesday.

    The deal is expected to include a new round of stimulus checks at $600 per individual, but no money for state and local aid, a priority Democrats had pushed for, and no lawsuit protections, which Republicans wanted.

    The measure is also expected to include an additional $300 a week in jobless benefits as well as up to $330 billion for small business loans and money for vaccine distribution.

    But there are still provisions drawing pushback, including a Democratic push to include $90 billion in aid to states that would be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    Senate Majority Whip John Thune told CNN that if that’s “simply a way of disguising money for state and local governments, it will have a lot of opposition.” He said it depends on how its structured.

    Even as talks are moving in a positive direction towards a deal, congressional leaders are still trading offers and going back-and-forth this morning as they try to finalize a proposal and jam it through Congress in days, several sources told CNN.

    That means it’s still highly uncertain when Congress will vote — and whether they will be able to tie the roughly $900 billion relief plan to a massive $1.4 trillion spending bill that Congress is trying to pass by the time the government runs out of money Friday night. Whether Congress will have to pass another stop-gap measure to keep agencies afloat remains to be seen.

    On a conference call Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that votes on final passage could slip into the weekend, and he prepared his members to be ready for that possibility.

    If that happens, it’s possible there could be a temporary government shutdown until final passage since government funding runs out Friday night, and they are planning on tying the Covid relief package to the funding bill. Congress may have to pass a short-term stop-gap measure to prevent that from happening.

    The stimulus proposal in the works amounts to about twice the amount that Senate Republicans have been proposing, but it is a fraction of what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been demanding for months. Before the election, Pelosi had held out for a deal worth $2.2 trillion, but now she is willing to back a much smaller proposal, arguing that they will have another opportunity to push for more aid when Joe Biden assumes the presidency.

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    Biden to tap Deb Haaland as first Native American interior secretary

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden has selected New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to serve as interior secretary, three people familiar with the matter tell CNN. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary.

    Haaland was picked, in part, because she is someone who has “spent her career fighting for all Americans, including tribal nations, rural communities, and communities of color,” according to a person familiar with the decision. The department conserves and manages the nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage, as well as oversees the federal government’s relationships with Native American tribes.

    A transition source familiar with the deliberations on the interior secretary pick pointed to Haaland’s current position as vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources as showing her knowledge of and commitment to environmental protections and clean energy. The source also tells CNN they expect that Haaland will bring perspective on other issues like land and water conservation, renewable energy, public lands, and federal parks.

    The Washington Post was first to report Haaland’s expected nomination.

    While the Democratic majority in the House is remarkably thin, Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave her blessing to Haaland’s selection. She issued a statement on Wednesday, which an aide tells CNN was intended to send a green light to the Biden transition and beyond that she supported her nomination.

    “Congresswoman Haaland knows the territory,” Pelosi said, “and if she is the President-elect’s choice for Interior Secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice.”

    A source familiar with the push to get Haaland nominated says that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was endorsed by the congresswoman during the presidential primary, offered her support for Haaland privately to Biden.

    Haaland made history in 2018 when she was elected as one of the two first female Native Americans in Congress. Haaland represents New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which covers most of Albuquerque. She replaced Michelle Lujan Grisham, who vacated her congressional seat to run for governor.

    The vice president of policy and strategy for the progressive think tank Data for Progress, Julian Brave NoiseCat, praised the President-elect’s pick.

    “We see our moms, our aunties, and ourselves in Deb — and now we’re putting our greatest hopes as a people in her leadership. After four years of fossil fuel executives and lobbyists opening up Native lands and sacred sites to industry, the next Secretary of Interior will be a Laguna Pueblo woman who went to Standing Rock in 2016 and cooked for the people,” Brave NoiseCat said in a statement.

    In 2016, Haaland traveled to North Dakota to take part in the protests over plans to build a pipeline underneath a key source of water for the Standing Rock Reservation.

    Haaland graduated from a program created by Emerge New Mexico, which helps train Democratic women to run for office.

    In 2012, she worked as the Native American vote director for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. She later ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014.

    She would go on to become the chair of New Mexico’s Democratic Party, and the first Native American woman in the country to lead a state party.

    This story has been updated with additional information about Haaland.

    CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

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    Biden expected to nominate North Carolina environmental official to run EPA

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden is poised to nominate Michael Regan of North Carolina to run the Environmental Protection Agency, two people familiar with the matter tell CNN.

    Regan, who runs the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, is set to be introduced on Saturday with other members of Biden’s climate team.

    If confirmed by the US Senate, Regan would be the second African American to lead the EPA. Lisa Jackson was the first to head the agency, during the Obama administration.

    The Washington Post was first to report Regan as the President-elect’s pick.

    Regan would play a central role in Biden’s plan to combat the climate crisis, lower the country’s carbon emissions and fight environmental injustices affecting low-income Americans and communities of color.

    North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, named Regan as the secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality in January 2017. The agency’s mission is to protect the state’s environment and natural resources.

    Regan previously led the Environmental Defense Fund’s efforts to combat the impacts of the climate crisis and air pollution, according to the state’s government website. He also worked at the EPA during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

    A transition source familiar with the deliberations process said that a critical part of Regan’s credentials — and a top reason he became a final contender for the role — is his state-level government experience. This is in addition to the asset of Regan having worked on the federal level as well under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the source said.

    On the significance of Regan becoming the first Black man to lead the EPA if confirmed, the source said they see this as an addition to the growing list of “firsts” in the Biden appointments and nominees so far, which we heard Biden talk in depth about yesterday in announcing Pete Buttigieg’s nomination for transportation secretary.

    His reported pick was met with praise from some environmental advocacy groups.

    “We are confident Michael Regan will rebuild the EPA, restore the central role of science, and advance health protections for people and the air, water and land upon which we depend to thrive,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, a spokesperson for the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

    Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement, “Regan will take the EPA’s helm at perhaps the most critical moment in the agency’s history, and he has to do much more than just mop up the toxic mess left by (President Donald) Trump.”

    Regan is expected to be one of the climate-focused members of Biden’s administration to be formally announced in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday, the source said, along with energy secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm and White House climate coordinator Gina McCarthy.

    CNN reported earlier this week that Biden is expected to name McCarthy, who served as the administrator of the EPA under President Barack Obama, as his White House climate czar. McCarthy would join former Secretary of State John Kerry, who the President-elect named his special presidential envoy for climate, as top Biden officials tasked with addressing the climate crisis.

    Biden’s ambitious climate plan seeks to end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and proposes broader public investment in green infrastructure, including $2 trillion for clean energy projects.

    The President-elect’s legislative agenda on climate will largely depend on whether Democrats gain control of the US Senate, which will be decided in two runoff elections in Georgia taking place on January 5. Regardless of which party controls the Senate, Biden has pledged to sign a series of executive orders on his first day in office related to combating the climate crisis, which would not require congressional approval.

    This story has been updated with additional information about Regan and Biden’s climate plan.

    CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly described Michael Regan. Regan would be the second African American to lead the EPA.

    CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

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    FDA authorizes a second vaccine as average daily cases and deaths hit records

    (CNN) The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday night authorized a second coronavirus vaccine for emergency use as Covid-19 hospitalizations rose to another record and cases and deaths are piling up in unprecedented ways.

    The FDA had signaled it would issue the authorization quickly for Moderna’s vaccine candidate, after the agency’s vaccine advisers voted Thursday to recommend approval.

    “The emergency use authorization allows the vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. for use in individuals 18 years and older,” the FDA said in a tweet.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still needs to green-light the vaccine before shots can be administered — and a CDC advisory panel is meeting this weekend to discuss it.

    If all hurdles are cleared, Moderna’s vaccine could be given in the US next week — joining Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, which rolled out this week, with first doses primarily being given to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

    “It’s an exciting time, but it’s a heartbreaking time,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN Friday of the vaccines’ arrivals. “The numbers (of cases, deaths and hospitalizations) are almost unspeakable at this point.”

    In the US, average daily cases, total hospitalizations and average daily deaths are still rising to levels not previously seen, as hospital staff around the country warn they’re running out of space and energy to provide sufficient care.

    With the authorization of the Moderna vaccine, 5.9 million Moderna doses could be delivered next week, joining 2 million allocated next week from Pfizer, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said earlier this week.

    “We still anticipate that every American will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by June,” Adm. Dr. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at HHS, said.

    Friday night’s authorization will, in the end, bring speedier relief, Azar said in a statement after the FDA’s announcement.

    “Authorization of Moderna’s vaccine means we can accelerate the vaccination of frontline healthcare workers and Americans in long-term-care facilities, and, ultimately, bring a faster end to this pandemic.”

    The Department of Defense “stands ready to work with our public and private-sector partners to ensure doeses reach Americans as soon as possible,” Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said in the statement. “Together, we will bring this pandemic to an end.”

    The task at hand now is to tackle skepticism many communities have toward the vaccines, and pass along the facts, according to Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. To that end, public figures including Vice President Mike Pence have received vaccinations on live television this week, hoping in part to inspire confidence.

    “I’ve had the chance to be intimately involved in every step of the way here in the development of these vaccines. There have been no shortcuts taken, there’s no hidden information,” Collins told CNN Thursday. “This is something you want to do, for yourself, for your family, for the future of our nation.”

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    Here’s what’s in the second stimulus package

    by Katie Lobosco & Tami Luhby, CNN
    Updated 10:45 PM ET, Sun December 20, 2020

    (CNN) Leaders in the House and Senate reached an agreement late Sunday on a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that includes enhanced unemployment benefits and direct cash payments.

    There were several changes made from a proposal put forward nearly two weeks ago by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Direct stimulus checks were brought in at the last minute. Direct aid to states and liability protections for companies were left out.

    If the new bill passes, it will be the second-largest federal stimulus package after the $2 trillion CARES Act that Congress approved in March.

    Lawmakers in both chambers are expected to vote Monday and send the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature — just in time to get something done before the end of December, when several aid programs in the CARES Act are set to expire, including key pandemic jobless assistance measures and eviction protections.

    The full bill text had not been released as of Sunday night. Here’s what we know so far from summaries released by Democratic and Republican leadership:

    Stimulus checks

    The package would send direct stimulus payments of $600 to individuals, half the amount provided in the first round of checks that went out in the spring. As with the first round, the payments will only be sent to people below a certain income level, though it wasn’t clear Sunday where that would be set.

    Eligible families would receive an additional $600 per child — which is $100 more than Congress gave families in the first round of relief last spring.

    Unemployment benefits

    The jobless would receive a $300 weekly federal enhancement in benefits for 11 weeks, from the end of December through mid-March under the deal. The amount is half of the earlier federal boost, which ran out at the end of July.

    Also, the agreement calls for extensions of two other pandemic unemployment programs that were created in the CARES Act in March. Both are currently set to expire at the end of this week, affecting an estimated 12 million people.

    The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program expands jobless benefits to gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors, the self-employed and certain people affected by the coronavirus. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional 13 weeks of payments to those who exhaust their regular state benefits.

    Both programs would close to new applicants in mid-March and then phase out in early April for existing claimants.

    The final agreement is less generous than the original bipartisan deal that was released earlier this month. It would have provided 16 weeks of enhanced payments and pandemic benefits.

    Small business loans

    The bill would reopen the Paycheck Protection Program so that some of the hardest-hit small businesses can apply for a second loan. The program stopped taking applications for the first round of loans in August.

    It specifically designates $12 billion for minority-owned and very small businesses.

    Unlike in the CARES Act, this bill carves out $15 billion for live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions. It also expands eligibility to more nonprofits as well as local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters.

    Funding for schools and child care

    The bill would provide $82 billion in aid for K-12 schools and colleges. Earlier proposals from Republicans and Democrats called for at least $100 billion in aid for schools.

    An additional $10 billion is included to support child care providers that have struggled because of the pandemic.

    Rental assistance

    The bill would extend until January 31 the eviction protection set to expire at the end of the year. It also would provide $25 billion in rental assistance for individuals who lost their source of income during the pandemic.

    Nutrition assistance

    The deal would raise SNAP benefits by 15% for six months but would not expand eligibility. This is more generous that the original bipartisan agreement from earlier in December, which called for a four-month increase.

    Democrats have advocated for augmenting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are formally known, since the pandemic began, but the provision never made it into prior relief packages.

    The bill would also expand the Pandemic-EBT program to families with children under age 6, deeming them “enrolled” in child care and eligible for benefits. It now provides money to low-income families with school-age children in lieu of the free and reduced-price meals they would have received in school.

    The deal also would send $400 million to food banks and food pantries through The Emergency Food Assistance Program.

    It would also provide $175 million for nutrition services for seniors, such as Meals on Wheels, and $13 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which serves more than 700,000 older Americans monthly.

    Vaccine funding

    The agreement would provide $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines so they can be available at no charge for those who need it, as well as another $8 billion for vaccine distribution.

    It also would give states $20 billion to assist with testing.

    What’s not in the bill — state and local government funding

    When will you get a second stimulus check?

    The final deal does not contain any direct aid to state and local governments — dropping an initial call for $160 billion in assistance as the basis for good faith negotiations.

    The provision has been among the most contentious of the negotiations. House Democrats had provided $875 billion in the relief bill that passed the chamber in May to help states and local governments struggling with lower tax revenues due to the pandemic.

    But Republicans have resisted allocating additional aid beyond the $150 billion provided in Congress’ $2 trillion relief bill in March, which could only be used for coronavirus-related expenses. GOP lawmakers have said they don’t want to bail out states that have mismanaged their finances.

    State and local officials blasted lawmakers in recent days when it became clear that direct aid was falling by the wayside.

    In a joint statement Sunday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that the final agreement would provide emergency resources for schools, $27 billion for state highways, struggling transit agencies, Amtrak and airports, and $22 billion for health-related expenses of state, local, tribal and territorial government.

    In addition, the agreement calls for providing $2 billion to support intercity buses.

    The deal would also extend the deadline for spending down the $150 billion in coronavirus relief funds by a year. State and local governments have been racing to use all the money by the current deadline of December 30, with many providing assistance to residents.

    State and local officials had also asked to be able to use some of the funding to plug budget shortfalls.

    CNN’s Manu Raju and Clare Foran contributed reporting.

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    https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/22/politics/donald-trump-white-house-countdown/index.html

    for his sake or at least his son’s sake (not the older ones the younger one) I hope he gets mental help

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    Biden introduces Miguel Cardona as education secretary nominee

    (CNN) President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday introduced Miguel Cardona as his nominee for education secretary, calling the Connecticut education commissioner “brilliant” and saying he will play a key role in his administration’s efforts to reopen schools forced online amid the coronavirus pandemic

    Cardona, whose parents moved from Puerto Rico to Connecticut, would be another high-profile Latino in the Cabinet if confirmed by the US Senate. Biden said Cardona “understands that the deep roots of inequity that exist as a source of our persistent opportunities gaps. He understands the transformative power that comes from investing in education.”

    Cardona said that as an education commissioner, a public school parent and a former public school classroom teacher, he understands how challenging this year has been for students, educators and parents.

    “It’s taken some of our most painful, longstanding disparities and wrenched them open even wider,” Cardona said, speaking publicly for the first time as Biden’s nominee. He said that “for too many students, your zip code and your skin color remain the best predictor of the opportunities you’ll have in your lifetime.”

    He added, “Though we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we also know that this crisis is ongoing, that we will carry its impacts for years to come and that the problems and inequities that have plagued our educational system since long before Covid will still be with us even after the virus is gone.”

    Biden on Wednesday reiterated that reopening schools safely would be a national priority for his administration and spoke of the challenges that students, educators and administrators have faced amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    “They worry. They’re under stress. They stretch local budgets that have left educators out of work,” Biden said.

    He also criticized “mixed signals from the White House” as to stimulus aid, a day after Trump unexpectedly announced he was asking for changes to the $900 billion Covid-19 relief package, leaving the future of the legislation in doubt.
    Biden pledged to push Congress to provide additional economic relief to Americans, including funding to “keep educators on the job.”

    CNN was first to report that Cardona would be nominated for the role.

    Cardona was appointed Connecticut’s commissioner of education by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont in August 2019. He came to the role with two decades of experience as a public school educator from the city of Meriden, according to the state’s government website, after beginning his career as an elementary school teacher and later serving for 10 years as a school principal. In 2013, Cardona became the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

    The Congressional Hispanic Caucus had urged the President-elect to select him. Throughout the Cabinet selection process, Biden has faced pressure to follow through on his pledge to nominate people who reflect the diversity of America.

    Biden still has five Cabinet-level positions to name, including attorney general. That decision is no longer expected to be announced before Christmas, a person familiar with the matter tells CNN, as the President-elect continues deliberating on one of the most high-profile positions in his incoming administration.

    Biden has said that getting kids back to school safely is one of his top priorities when he takes office in January. In a recent speech laying out his plan to address the pandemic, he said that if Congress provides the necessary funding to protect students, educators and staff and if Americans follow strong public health measures, “my team will work to see that a majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.”

    During his presidential campaign, Biden proposed guaranteeing two free years of community college or other training as part of a higher education plan that would also aim to cut student loan obligations. His plan includes new spending aimed at improving access to college for low-income individuals, minorities and undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

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    Trump announces wave of pardons, including Papadopoulos and former lawmakers Hunter and Collins

    (CNN) President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced a wave of lame duck pardons, including two for men who pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller’s investigation, as well as ones for Republican allies who once served in Congress and military contractors involved in a deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians.

    The pardons of former campaign aide George Papadopoulos, former US congressmen Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, and the four Blackwater guards involved in the Iraq massacre kick off what is expected to be a flurry of pardons and commutations in the coming weeks as Trump concludes his term.

    Also included in the batch announced on Tuesday are Alex van der Zwaan, the Dutch lawyer who was sentenced to 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to lying to Mueller investigators; two Border Patrol agents convicted in 2006 of shooting and wounding an unarmed undocumented immigrant and then covering it up; and several people convicted of non-violent drug crimes serving lengthy sentences.

    The pardons came at the recommendation of Trump allies in Congress and, in some cases, the conservative media. Many of the non-violent drug offenders were recommended for clemency by Alice Johnson, the former federal inmate whose sentence Trump commuted at the urging of Kim Kardashian West.

    The announcement Tuesday also included commuting the remaining prison term of former Rep. Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican who was convicted by a jury in Texas of almost two dozen felonies, including fraud and money laundering.

    In the release, the White House cited Stockman’s age, 64, and said he “has underlying pre-existing health conditions that place his health at greater risk during the COVID epidemic, and he has already contracted COVID while in prison.” He had served two years of his 10-year sentence for what prosecutors called a “a white-collar crime spree.”

    Others included in the clemency batch on Tuesday were pardons for Alfonso Costa, a dentist who pleaded guilty to health care fraud; Alfred Lee Crum, who pleaded guilty in 1952 to illegally distilling moonshine; Weldon Angelos, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison for selling marijuana and carrying a handgun; Philip Lyman, a county commissioner in Utah who was sentenced to 10 days in jail related to his protest of ATV restrictions on federal land; and Otis Gordon, who was convicted of possession with intent to distribute.

    Philip Esformes, a Florida nursing home mogul convicted of paying bribes in a Medicare fraud case, also had some of his sentence commuted by Trump.

    Trump also reduced the sentences of three women — Crystal Munoz, Tynice Nichole Hall, and Judith Negron — convicted of drug crimes at the recommendation of Johnson, who has worked on behalf of other inmates after the President commuted her own sentence. Trump later granted Johnson a full pardon at this year’s Republican National Convention.

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    Massive data breach may have been discovered due to “unforced error” by suspected Russian hackers

    (CNN) US officials and private sector experts investigating the massive data breach that has rocked Washington increasingly believe the attackers were ultimately discovered because they took a more aggressive “calculated risk” that led to a possible “unforced error” as they tried to expand their access within the network they had penetrated months earlier without detection, according to a US official and two sources familiar with the situation.

    Investigators still haven’t confirmed the motives of the attackers as they work both to uncover the full scope of the attack and assign blame for the campaign that impacted at least half a dozen government agencies and potentially hundreds of private companies. The incursion was first uncovered by the cybersecurity firm FireEye after its own network was breached.

    FireEye was tipped off to the hackers’ presence when they attempt to move laterally within the firm’s network, according to the sources, a move that suggested the hackers were targeting sensitive data beyond emails addresses or business records. Whether that exposure was the result of a mistake by the attackers or because they took a calculated risk remains unclear, the sources said.

    “At some point, you have to risk some level of exposure when you’re going laterally to get after the things that you really want to get. And you’re going to take calculated risks as an attacker,” one source familiar with the investigation said.

    Multiple entry points

    Last week, FireEye acknowledged in a statement that the breach “occurred when the hackers, who already had an employee’s credentials, used those to register their own device to FireEye’s multi-factor authentication system so they could receive the employee’s unique access codes.”

    FireEye has declined to provide additional details about how the hackers were ultimately discovered after evading detection for months, citing an ongoing investigation into the matter. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency also declined to comment. US officials and experts warn the hackers used multiple entry points to breach these networks, some of which have not yet been identified.

    Now, the hackers are attempting to salvage what access they can as the US government and private sector are “burning it all down,” sources said, referring to their complete overhaul of networks, which will force the attackers to find new ways of getting the information they seek.

    Meanwhile, US officials continue to grapple with the fallout and assess just how successful the operation was, the US official said, noting that it is clear the nation-state responsible invested significant time and resources into the effort.

    While the scope of the hacking campaign remains unclear, government agencies that have disclosed they were impacted have said there is no evidence to date that classified data was compromised.

    But the way the hackers were discovered suggests the operation was intended to steal sensitive information beyond what was available on unclassified networks and sought to establish long-standing access to various targeted networks, the sources said.

    The fact that FireEye — not the federal government — discovered the breach has also raised questions about why the attack went undetected at US government agencies.

    Speaking to reporters Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden knocked President Donald Trump’s administration over hack, charging that “the Trump administration failed to prioritize cybersecurity.”

    “This assault happened on Donald Trump’s watch when he wasn’t watching,” Biden said. “It is a grave risk, and it continues. I see no evidence that it’s under control. I’ve seen none.”

    Biden also charged that the Pentagon is failing to brief his transition team on the extent of the hack. On Wednesday, a senior defense official denied that was the case.

    “Damage done”

    “The question of the damage done remains to be determined,” Biden said Tuesday. “We have to look at very closely the nature of the breaches, how extensive they are and what damage has been done.”

    When Biden takes office next month, the hack will pose an immediate challenge, as it’s expected to take weeks or months to truly understand the extent of the damage to US agencies. Biden is also likely to have to decide how to respond if the federal government formally attributes the hack to Russia, which members of Trump’s administration and lawmakers have said is likely.

    “I believe that when I learn the extent of the damage, and in fact who’s formally responsible, they can be assured that we will respond,” Biden said Tuesday. “We’ll probably respond in kind. We have many options, which I will not discuss now.”

    Lawmakers on the relevant committees are also pushing to learn more about the extent of the hack, why it took so long to be discovered, and why it was a private company that ultimately unearthed the breach. Congressional committees have been briefed both by US officials from the intelligence community and other agencies, as well as by FireEyes, a sign of the company’s importance to understanding the data breach, lawmakers and aides say.

    “If the public reporting is accurate that it was the private sector that discovered this, that’s another big question that our agencies are going to have to answer, which is, why didn’t you catch this?” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said on MSNBC.

    While a private company spotted the breach, a private sector contractor, SolarWinds, was at least one of the entry points hackers used to break into government networks. The software that the suspected malware was delivered with, SolarWinds Orion, has as many as 18,000 global customers, including government agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

    “The government itself may have pretty good protections, but when you have a software firm you’re contracting with and they send you a patch and you install it, turns out to not really be a patch but a back door for the Russians or Chinese or whoever wants to do something like this,” said Sen. Angus King, a Maine Independent who co-chaired a congressional commission, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, to improve US cyber defenses.

    Much of the federal government only learned of one of the country’s worst-ever cybersecurity incidents from public reporting and disclosures from private firms. Lawmakers predict there will be efforts next year both to strengthen the US defenses and improve government partnerships with the private sector.

    Complicated

    But that remains a complicated proposition.

    “It’s very clear from this that we’re going to need to set up more partnerships between government and private companies,” Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN. “We’re going to need to have a tough conversation about whether we want to make it easier for the government to look at private companies’ networks and products. That’s a very tough conversation because there’s civil liberties in the mix there.”

    Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on Tuesday there should be a reexamination of reporting requirements after data breaches for both private companies and government agencies.

    “If you are a public company, you have to report at the end of the quarter, but there is no immediate requirement to report” for government entities, Warner said. “These are all things that leave us much more vulnerable.”

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    Brexit trade deal reached between UK and European Union with just days to spare

    by Luke McGee and Kara Fox, CNN
    Updated 11:14 AM ET, Thu December 24, 2020

    London (CNN) The United Kingdom and European Union have reached a post-Brexit trade agreement after months of fraught negotiations, the British government said in a statement Thursday. The breakthrough averts a much-feared “no-deal” scenario that would have sparked economic chaos and risked major disruption to the flow of goods and medicines.

    “Deal is done,” read a statement from Downing Street. “Everything that the British public was promised during the 2016 referendum and in the general election last year is delivered by this deal.”

    Talks had been deadlocked for months after the two sides were unable to reach agreement in areas such as fishing quotas, how the UK would use state aid to support British businesses post-Brexit, and legal oversight of any deal struck.

    It is unlikely that the deal will be formally ratified before the Brexit transition ends, given that it still needs to go through a series of legal hoops.

    EU leaders, the European parliament, and the UK government will all need to now approve the agreement on their own.

    The legal text of the agreement will first be translated, reviewed and approved by all 27 EU member states.

    Once all member states give their sign off, it will then go back to the European Parliament, where Members of European Parliament (MEPs) will vote to ratify the deal.

    But the European Parliament has said that it is too late to hold an emergency voting session before the transition period ends on December 31.

    Instead, they plan to apply the EU-UK agreement “provisionally,” with MEPs reconvening formally to ratify the deal in the New Year.

    Meanwhile, there will also probably be a vote in the British parliament to legalize the deal.

    Even though trade deals do not require parliamentary approval, it is expected that UK lawmakers will likely be brought back from their Christmas break to debate and approve it.

    It can take up to 48 hours to bring Parliament back into session, however it’s been known to move very quickly when it needs to.
    While the deal marks a significant milestone in the four and a half years since the UK voted to leave the EU, it is unlikely to end the years of toxic political debate in the UK.

    Euroskeptic lawmakers are already organizing efforts to ensure that a deal does not leave room for the UK to drift back into the EU’s orbit. Pro-Europeans, meanwhile, will be hopeful that at some point in the future, the UK, perhaps under new leadership, will be able to strengthen ties with Brussels.

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    Investigators have received 500 tips related to Nashville explosion on Christmas

    (CNN) Federal investigators in Nashville are combing through more than 500 tips and leads to unravel the mystery surrounding the explosion that rocked Music City on Christmas morning.

    The blast occurred Friday at 6:30 a.m. CT, after a computerized voice emanating from a parked white motor home loudly urged people to evacuate, warning the vehicle would explode in minutes.

    The RV’s explosion left at least three people injured, set several other vehicles on fire, destroyed a number of buildings on the block and knocked out wireless service in much of the region.

    Law enforcement officials provided little new information in a news conference Saturday about how the investigation was progressing, but FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas Korneski said investigators were working the case on “several fronts.”

    “First our investigative team is turning over every stone to make sure we know as many details as possible to answer the question of who is responsible for this, and also to understand why did they do this,” he said.

    That effort involves the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit in Quantico, Virginia, along with approximately 250 FBI personnel working on the scene with law enforcement partners.

    “Secondly our evidence response teams are committed to documenting and collecting all of the evidence to support the facts learned by the investigative team,” he said.

    As the investigation continues, there are no signs of an active manhunt, an indication that investigators are not looking for someone who still poses a danger to the public, several law enforcement sources tell CNN.

    Among the questions investigators are trying to answer is whether the AT&T transmission building that sustained damage in the blast was the target of the explosion, the sources say.

    Asked Saturday about whether the AT&T building was a target, Korneski said, “We are looking at every possible motive.”

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    A 71-year-old Black man has sued a South Carolina city after he says he feared for his life in a 2019 incident in which a police officer held the man outside naked and at gunpoint while other officers searched through his home without a warrant.

    71-year-old Black man sues after South Carolina police allegedly held him naked at gunpoint. 71-year-old Black man sues after South Carolina police allegedly held him naked at gunpoint
    According to the legal complaint filed by attorneys Justin Bamberg and Julie Beeks on Monday, Jethro DeVane says he was asleep at home in the city of Rock Hill, S.C., on the evening of June 3, 2019, when he woke up to police shining lights inside his window.

    When DeVane looked out his front door to see what was going on, he said officers then pointed a gun at him and forced him outside.

    Body camera footage from the incident obtained by The Hill shows officer Vincent Mentesana cursing at DeVane and telling him not to close the door.

    Mentesana orders DeVane to stand outside his home naked at 4 a.m., facing the wall, according to the footage released Tuesday following a public records request by DeVane’s legal team.

    After DeVane asks the officer what was going on, Mentesana can be heard saying, “I don’t want to talk to you.”

    The lawsuit claims that the officer held DeVane at gunpoint for 90 seconds while other officers searched through the home.

    “I did what the man said. He had the weapon. He could have took my life in a minute,” DeVane said at a news conference Tuesday.

    In a statement released Monday, the Rock Hill Police Department said officers had been searching for four teens suspected of breaking into a nearby car. The officers then went up to DeVane’s home thinking it was an abandoned residence and that the young people could have been hiding inside.

    The department added that DeVane was “detained by officers for safety” and that once officers “conducted a protective sweep of the residence” and “were able to verify” his identity, they left the scene.

    However, DeVane’s lawyers argue that the officers carried out an illegal search and humiliated the man by holding him naked outside.

    “He is pulled out of this house at 71 years old, completely naked,” Bamberg said during Tuesday’s press conference. “Is this how we want our law enforcement officers policing neighborhoods? No, it’s not.”

    “Why do we have to be here advocating for human decency and human dignity? It is utterly ridiculous and it is unacceptable,” he added. “And it needs to stop before there is a death. God forbid, if Mr. DeVane had panicked like a lot of people would and tried to close that door.”

    Bamberg, a Democrat serving as a member of South Carolina’s state House, told The Hill on Wednesday that it is common practice in the Palmetto State for people to carry guns with them for safety, adding that if DeVane was armed, he believes the elderly man “would have died.”

    The attorney, who was picked to serve on the criminal justice reform unity task force developed by then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) earlier this year, added that DeVane’s case should serve as a wake-up call for agencies across the country to implement policing changes.

    “I come from a family of law enforcement,” Bamberg told The Hill. “I support them. We need them. But what we’re not going to stand for is law enforcement trampling on the rights of American citizens.”

    When contacted by The Hill on Wednesday, Rock Hill Police spokesman Lt. Michael Chavis said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

    The city’s law firm told the Associated Press Monday that Mentesana had requested a transfer from the police department to Rock Hill’s utility department in February.

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