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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

To Honor King's Legacy, Biden Continues Push For Voting Rights

By Andrea Shalal

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - President Joe Biden traveled to Philadelphia on Sunday to honor the legacy of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., as he continues to press for voting rights legislation and concerted action to combat rising extremism.

Biden's visit to the "City of Brotherly Love" comes hours after an FBI hostage rescue team stormed a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, to free three hostages after a more than 10-hour standoff. Another hostage had been freed earlier.

The president, who was briefed on the crisis as it unfolded, said there was more to learn about what motivated the hostage-taker, but pledged to "stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country."

Biden and first lady Jill Biden are volunteering at Philabundance, a hunger relief organization in Philadelphia, to mark Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

In a proclamation on Friday, Biden warned against complacency and said it was crucial to continue King's work by enacting legislation to protect voting rights, opposing the rise of white supremacism and other forms of extremism, and pressing for greater economic justice.

"Living up to his legacy, and what Dr. King believed our Nation could become, requires more than just reflection -- it requires action," Biden said in the proclamation.

"That is why the Congress must pass Federal legislation to protect the right to vote -- a right that is under attack by a sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion. We must confront the scourge of racism and white supremacy -- a stain on our Nation -- and give hate no safe harbor in America."

But Biden's push to enact voting rights legislation appears doomed after Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin said they opposed changing the Senate's filibuster rule, which requires that 60 of the 100 senators agree on most legislation, in a chamber where Democrats now hold only 50 seats.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer still plans to begin debate on the voting rights legislation on Tuesday. If Republicans block that bill as anticipated, Schumer said he was still prepared to seek a change in the Senate's filibuster rule to win passage. But given Sinema and Manchin's stance, efforts to change the filibuster appear doomed to fail.

Biden told reporters on Thursday he was not certain the bill could pass now but vowed to keep trying.

"One thing for certain: Like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time. We missed this time."

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a voting bill on Thursday. But Democrats cannot overcome universal Republican opposition in the Senate without changing the filibuster.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler)

DirecTV Blackout May Ruin Far-Right One America News Channel

By John Shiffman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The largest satellite provider in the United States said late Friday it will drop One America News, a move that could financially cripple the right-wing TV network known for fueling conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

The announcement by DirecTV, which is 70 percent owned by AT&T, comes three months after a Reuters investigation revealed that OAN’s founder testified that AT&T inspired him to create the network. Court testimony also showed that OAN receives nearly all of its revenue from DirecTV.

The Reuters report drew calls from some liberal groups for AT&T and DirecTV to drop OAN, a favorite of former President Donald Trump, because the network has become a key source of false claims about the election and COVID vaccinations.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden said COVID conspiracy theories are putting lives at risk. “I make a special appeal to social media companies and media outlets: Please deal with the misinformation and disinformation that’s on your shows,” Biden said. “It has to stop.”

OAN is owned by San Diego-based Herring Networks, a family of conservative tech entrepreneurs. CEO Robert Herring Sr did not respond to requests for comment by email and phone. In an interview with Reuters last year, he said his network provided an important voice. “If I think I’m right, I just go for it,” he said.

DirecTV, with approximately 15 million subscribers, is by far OAN’s largest carrier. According to testimony by OAN’s accountant reviewed by Reuters, DirecTV provided 90 percent of the conservative network’s revenue.

“We informed Herring Networks that, following a routine internal review, we do not plan to enter into a new contract when our current agreement expires,” DirecTV said in a statement.

The OAN-DirecTV contract is set to expire in the next several months. DirecTV began airing OAN in April 2017, a deal that began shortly after OAN and AT&T settled a lawsuit over alleged oral promises during negotiations.

On Twitter, some conservatives expressed outrage that DirecTV and AT&T planned to drop OAN. “Corporate Media is crushing what little dissent remains,” tweeted former Fox News host Lou Dobbs.

The pro-Trump right, however, has powerful outlets on television and online, including Fox News, the conservative cable news outlet founded by Rupert Murdoch.

Liberals cheered the news. NAACP President Derrick Johnson called it “a victory for us and the future of democracy.” In a statement, Johnson added: “At a time when we are seeing our rights infringed upon, OAN only seeks to create further division. … We must continually choose truth over lies and common sense over hysteria.”

The news also follows a lawsuit filed on December 23 by two Georgia election workers who accused OAN and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani of spreading false vote-rigging claims about them in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. The claims were debunked by state authorities. OAN has denied it has done anything wrong.

DirecTV did not elaborate on why it planned to drop OAN. Earlier, an AT&T spokesman said the company airs “many news channels that offer viewpoints across the political spectrum.”

The Reuters investigative report in October cited sworn statements in which OAN’s founder and his son testified that the inspiration for the conservative network came from AT&T executives.

“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” the elder Herring said during a 2019 deposition. “They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [left-wing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.”

During a 2020 court proceeding, a transcript shows, an OAN lawyer told the court, “If Herring Networks, for instance, was to lose or not be renewed on DirecTV, the company would go out of business tomorrow.”

(Reporting by John Shiffman. Additional reporting by Jason Szep. Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Far-right Oath Keepers Charged With Seditious Conspiracy In Capitol Attack

By Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. prosecutors on Thursday charged the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, Stewart Rhodes, and 10 alleged members of the group with seditious conspiracy for their role in the deadly January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

They said Rhodes had warned his group to prepare for a "bloody and desperate fight" in the days leading up to the assault, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump tried to stop Congress from certifying his election defeat.

This is the first time alleged participants in the attack have been charged with seditious conspiracy, which is defined as attempting "to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the government of the United States."

"We are going to have a fight," prosecutors said Rhodes told his allies on the messaging app Signal. "That can't be avoided."

The Oath Keepers are a loosely organized group of activists who believe that the federal government is encroaching on their rights, and focus on recruiting current and former police, emergency services and military members.

Nine of the eleven charged with seditious conspiracy were already facing other charges relating to the Capitol attack. Members of the far-right Proud Boys and Three Percenters have also been charged with taking part in the attack.

The indictment says Rhodes started sending messages to his followers in November 2020, the month of Trump's election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, encouraging them to "oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power."

After his defeat, Trump repeatedly made false claims that his loss was a result of widespread fraud. He repeated those claims in a fiery speech near the White House before thousands of his followers stormed the Capitol in the worst attack on the seat of Congress since the War of 1812.

Prosecutors said that beginning in late December 2020, Rhodes used private encrypted communications to plan to travel to Washington on January 6. He and others planned to bring weapons to help support the operation, prosecutors said.

While some of the Oath Keeper members rushed inside the building wearing tactical gear, others remained outside in what they deemed "quick-response force" teams, which were prepared to rapidly transport arms into the city, prosecutors said.

Jon Moseley, an attorney for Rhodes, told Reuters he was on the phone with Rhodes to discuss his planned appearance before the House Select Committee on January 6 when the FBI called.

"He patched me in on the call and I identified myself as his lawyer," Moseley said in an e-mail. The agent then told him they were outside Rhodes' home in Granbury, Texas, and were there to arrest him.

The indictment alleges that Thomas Caldwell, who was previously charged, and Edward Vallejo of Arizona, a new defendant, were in charge of coordinating the quick-response force teams.

Seditious conspiracy is a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Attorney General Merrick Garland last week vowed to hold accountable anyone involved in the attack on the Capitol. The department has charged more than 725 people with crimes arising from the attack. Of those people, about 165 have pleaded guilty and at least 70 have been sentenced. Garland said the Justice Department would "follow the facts wherever they lead."

On the day of the attack, four people died. One of them, Ashli Babbitt, was shot dead by Capitol Police while trying to break into the Speaker's Gallery. Three others died of natural causes.

The following day, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died. Although he had been sprayed with a chemical irritant the day of the attack, it was later determined he died of natural causes. Around 140 police officers were injured, and four police officers later died by suicide.

The Justice Department has previously obtained seditious conspiracy convictions against Puerto Rican nationalists and alleged Islamist militants including Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the radical Islamic clergyman known as the "Blind Sheikh."

Seditious conspiracy charges featured prominently in a case federal authorities brought in 1987 against leaders and members of a neo-Nazi group known as The Order. Fourteen alleged members or supporters were indicted, with 10 facing seditious conspiracy counts.

After a two-month trial, a jury acquitted all defendants.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Daniel Wallis)

Biden Doubles U.S. Free Covid Test Pledge To One Billion Amid Short Supply

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden said on Thursday he is directing the U.S. government to procure an additional 500 million COVID-19 tests to help meet demand across the country amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

The order comes on top of another 500 million tests that the White House pledged before the Christmas holiday would be available to Americans this month.

"Today I'm directing my team to procure ... an additional 500 million more tests to distribute for free," Biden said ahead of a briefing from advisers.

Reuters was first to report Biden's move.

The president has come under criticism https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-biden-analysis-idCAKBN2IZ0WD for not focusing more on testing earlier as part of his strategy for fighting the pandemic. A nationwide shortage of tests has plagued the response in recent weeks during the rampant spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

A White House official said earlier on Thursday the tests would be free for American consumers and that the White House would share more details about their distribution at a later date. Details about the website that will have information on the first tranche of 500 million tests will be available on Friday, the official said.

When the original 500 million tests were announced, experts https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/biden-omicron-measures-too-little-too-late-fast-moving-virus-experts-2021-12-23said the White House's actions were too slow and not bold enough to deal with Omicron's spread. Since then, the Department of Defense has signed contracts with two procurement companies, Revival Health https://www.reuters.com/world/us/pentagon-awards-contract-revival-health-covid-test-kits-2022-01-07 and Goldbelt Security https://www.reuters.com/world/us/pentagon-awards-52-mln-contract-covid-19-test-kits-2022-01-07, to provide them.

Tests have been difficult for many Americans https://www.reuters.com/world/us/americans-grapple-with-prolonged-testing-woes-amid-omicron-surge-2022-01-12 to find, driven in part by rapid test supply shortages as well as staffing shortages at the urgent care centers, pop-up sites and pharmacies that administer the tests. More recently, staffing at the laboratories that process the more complex PCR tests has also become a factor, frustrating many seeking to know quickly whether they are infected with COVID-19.

Biden acknowledged Americans' frustration but said testing availability had improved.

"This month it's estimated that we will hit approximately 15 million tests a day and we'll have over 375 million at-home rapid tests in January alone," he said. "That's a huge leap."

Biden said the administration was on track to roll out a website next week from which people will be able to order free tests to be shipped to their homes. He also said the administration would announce next week how it would make masks available to Americans for free.

While the official count of Omicron cases in the United States continues to rise, there are signs that in some areas that were hit early on, such as the Northeast, the pace of new infections has begun to slow.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Steve HollandEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis)

Select Committee Asks To Question McCarthy -- But He Won't Appear Voluntarily

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) -The House Select Committee investigating the deadly January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol asked House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday to voluntarily answer questions about Donald Trump's actions on the day of the riot.

In a letter to McCarthy released publicly, the House of Representatives Select Committee requested his testimony on a range of topics, including his conversations with the former president before, during, and after the attack.

"We also must learn about how the President's plans for January 6 came together, and all the other ways he attempted to alter the results of the election," the Select Committee's chairman, Bennie Thompson, said in the letter.

The committee is also investigating whether Trump suggested to McCarthy what he should say publicly and to investigators about their conversations on the day of the attack, according to the letter. McCarthy and Trump met on January 28, 2021, in Palm Beach, Florida.

A spokesman for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Later McCarthy's office issued a statement rejecting the committee's request.

"As a representative and the leader of the minority party, it is with neither regret nor satisfaction that I have concluded to not participate with this select committee’s abuse of power that stains this institution today and will harm it going forward," McCarthy said.

The panel had previously asked another Trump ally in Congress, Representative Jim Jordan, to disclose conversations he had with Trump on January 6, 2021.

Jordan said on Sunday he would not cooperate with the committee's investigating, calling it illegitimate.

Two Republicans, Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, are members of the committee.

Thompson has said the panel is looking into whether it has the authority to issue subpoenas to congressional Republicans to force their cooperation.

The Select Committee has interviewed more than 340 witnesses and issued dozens of subpoenas as it investigates the deadly storming of the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters as lawmakers were certifying President Joe Biden's election victory.

The committee is aiming to release an interim report in the summer and a final report in the fall, a source familiar with the investigation said last month.

The committee's members have said they will consider passing along evidence of criminal conduct by Trump to the Justice Department. Such a move, known as a criminal referral, would be largely symbolic but would increase the political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to charge the former president.

One police officer who battled rioters died the day after the attack and four who guarded the Capitol later died by suicide. Four rioters also died, including a woman who was shot by a police officer while trying to climb through a shattered window.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Sandra Maler)

Biden Orders Insurance Companies To Cover Eight Monthly COVID Tests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Insurance companies will be required to cover eight over-the-counter at-home coronavirus tests per person each month starting Saturday, the Biden administration said, expanding access to highly sought-after kits as Americans grapple with a surge in coronavirus cases.

The White House also said on Monday that there is no limit to the number of COVID-19 tests, including at-home tests, that insurers must cover if they are ordered or administered by a health care provider.

The measures are part of a bid by President Joe Biden to make testing more widely available to Americans facing soaring coronavirus cases due to the highly infectious Omicron variant.

In a speech in December, Biden outlined plans to distribute 500 million at-home coronavirus test kits and stand up new federal testing sites, adding to the 20,000 already in existence. However, experts decried the announcement as "too little too late" amid testing shortages nationwide.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that Americans should be able to order the tests online later this month, noting that all contracts for rapid tests should be awarded over the next two weeks. The first was signed last week.

Under the insurer coverage plan announced Monday, the administration said that insurers are still required to reimburse tests purchased by consumers outside of their network, at a rate of up to $12 per individual test.

It was not immediately clear what incentives were offered to insurers to agree to the plan. The Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eric Beech and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Chris Reese and Cynthia Osterman)

No Jab, No Job: Citigroup No Longer Coddling The Unvaccinated

By David Henry, Noor Zainab Hussain and Anirban Sen

(Reuters) - Citigroup Inc staff in the United States who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 14 will be placed on unpaid leave and fired at the end of the month unless they are granted an exemption, according to a company memo seen by Reuters on Friday.

The U.S. bank announced its plan to impose new vaccination rules in October and now becomes the first major Wall Street institution to follow through with a strict vaccine mandate.

Its move comes as the financial industry grapples with how to bring workers back to offices safely and get back to business as usual at a time when the highly infectious Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading like wildfire.

Other major Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs & Co,, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co, have told some unvaccinated employees to work from home, but none has yet gone as far as sacking staff.

While Citigroup is the first Wall Street bank to enforce a vaccine mandate, a handful of other major U.S. companies have introduced "no-jab, no-job" policies, including Google and United Airlines, with varying degrees of stringency.

More than 90% of Citigroup employees have complied with the mandate so far and that figure is rising rapidly, according to a source familiar with the matter, adding that the timing of the vaccination mandate would be different for branch staff.

When it announced its policy, Citigroup also said it would assess exemptions on religious or medical grounds, or any other accommodation by state or local law, on a case-by-case basis.

The bank said then it was complying with the policy of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration requiring all workers supporting government contracts to be fully vaccinated, as the government was a "large and important" client.

"You are welcome to apply for other roles at Citi in the future as long as you are compliant with Citi’s vaccination policy," the bank said in the memo. "If you are not vaccinated, we urge you to get vaccinated as soon as possible."

DIVISIVE ISSUE

Vaccination has become a divisive issue in the United States, as it has in many countries around the world, with some people fiercely opposed and many Republicans critical of mandates imposed by governments and businesses.

The U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments on Friday over requests by Republican state officials and business groups to block a Biden mandate for firms with more than 100 workers that requires employees be vaccinated or tested weekly.

Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky, who advises companies on their return-to-office strategies, said many companies initially welcomed the White House's vaccine mandate because it took the matter out of their hands.

"However, companies are recognizing that the Biden mandate may not hold up at the conservative Supreme Court," he said. "If it doesn't hold then they are going to have the decision put back in their hands and they will have to do something."

Many financial firms have pushed back their return-to-office plans and are encouraging staff to get vaccinated and boosted, but have so far avoided vaccine mandates for legal reasons.

"This is going to be a challenging and complex policy to implement," said Chase Hattaway, a partner at law firm RumbergerKirk, noting the bank has to navigate federal anti-discrimination and other state laws.

"Citi will have to tailor its policy to state legislation, and in many cases, cities and municipalities will have different regulations as well, that may require even further carve-outs," Hattaway said.

UNPAID LEAVE

Jacqueline Voronov, partner at law firm Hall Booth Smith, said, however, that courts have been upholding the right of private employers to mandate vaccines.

"A private employer is allowed to mandate its own policy. And if Citi wants to have a mandatory vaccination policy, they can do that," she said, provided the bank offers medical exemptions.

An increasing number of U.S. companies have been using vaccine requirements to protect employees and avoid operations being disrupted by mass staff absences.

United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby said last month the carrier fired 200 of its 67,000 employees for failure to comply with its mandate.

Many hospitals have fired staff for failing to comply with mandates, which have been imposed on the healthcare industry in more than 20 states.

While some companies such as Tyson Foods Inc have gotten more than 96% of its employees to take a vaccine, those in construction and retail have resisted vaccine mandates over fears of staff resistance amid a very tight labor market.

(Additional reporting Niket Nishant in Bengaluru, Tom Hals and Elizabeth Dilts; Writing by Michelle Price and David Clarke; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel, Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft)

Biden Shows Empathy And Support Following Natural Disaster--Unlike Trump

By Jeff Mason

LOUISVILLE, Colo. (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday visited a Denver-area community reduced to rubble last week by a rare winter wildfire, offering hugs and condolences to a handful of the thousands of residents whose homes were destroyed.

Two people were missing and feared dead after the wind-driven Marshall Fire incinerated more than 1,000 dwellings on Dec. 30-31, making it the most destructive Colorado blaze on record in terms of property losses. Human remains believed to belong to one of the missing were recovered on Wednesday.

The prairie grass fire in Boulder County, on the northern outskirts of the Denver metropolitan area, scorched over 6,000 acres and laid waste to parts of two towns - Louisville and Superior - as flames at times devoured football field-size stretches of drought-parched landscape in seconds.

Biden's trip to Boulder County marked his second as president to Colorado and his second focused on wildfires.

Under bright sunny skies, the president and first lady Jill Biden walked through a flame-ravaged Louisville neighborhood where blackened rubble and scorched tree trunks poked through a blanket of snow. They chatted briefly with emergency workers and families displaced by the blaze.

The president, pausing to embrace some residents and place a hand on the shoulders of others, was joined on the tour by Colorado Governor Jared Polis and at least three members of the state's congressional delegation.

"We lost everything," one man was overheard telling the president.

Biden has declared the scene of the latest blaze on the eastern fringe of the Rocky Mountains a national disaster, freeing up federal funds to assist residents and businesses in recovery efforts.

The normal wildfire season in Colorado does not typically extend into the winter thanks to snow cover and bracing cold. But climate change and rising global temperatures are leaving vegetation in parts of the western United States drier and more incendiary.

Insured losses from the fire are expected to run about $1 billion, according to catastrophe modeling firm Karen Clark & Company.

Local authorities put the value of residential property damage alone at more than $500 million.

The president's primary legislative initiative, the Build Back Better Act, would funnel billions of dollars to increased forest management, firefighting and efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

The bill, opposed by Republicans, passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in November. It must still pass the Senate, where it has yet to secure the needed support of all of Biden's fellow Democrats.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Denver; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Keith Coffman in Denver; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

Maricopa Officials Shoot Down  Arizona 'Audit' Falsehoods

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) - Election officials in Arizona's most populous county found nearly every conclusion in a partisan "audit" of Donald Trump's loss in the 2020 presidential election to be misleading or false, according to an official rebuttal released on Wednesday.

The Maricopa County Elections Department's 93-page report is an attempt to address dozens of claims made by Trump's allies in the Republican Party in their so-called "full forensic audit" aimed at casting doubt on his defeat in the battleground state.

While last year's Republican-led review had already been widely discredited by election experts as biased and procedurally flawed, the report, titled "Correcting The Record," marked the first detailed response by county officials.

"We determined that nearly every finding included faulty analysis, inaccurate claims, misleading conclusions and a lack of understanding of federal and state election laws," the report says of the audit, which Arizona Republican senators contracted out to a private company called Cyber Ninjas.

According to the report, the county analysis identified 22 claims that were misleading, 41 that included flawed or misstated analysis, and 13 that were demonstrably false.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, carried Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, by about 45,000 votes, making it critical to his narrow win over Trump in November 2020. Biden's victory was confirmed by a hand recount and multiple post-election tests for accuracy. No evidence has emerged of the widespread fraud that Trump and his allies falsely alleged.

Led by Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, Republicans nevertheless pushed for a comprehensive review of the election, including a hand recount and examination of tabulation equipment. They released a final report in September that found a vote tally largely matching the official results, although they made several claims of alleged anomalies.

For example, the Cyber Ninjas used information from a third-party commercial database to claim that some 33,000 people may have voted illegally because they moved prior to the election and no longer lived at the address on file with the county.

According to the county's report, Cyber Ninjas flagged problems by using "soft match" methods that relied on basic data points such as first name, last name, and birth year, leading to the misidentification of people as illegally casting votes.

"Our review did not find any voter ineligible to vote from their residential address during the November 2020 General Election and found no evidence of double voting," the report said.

The partisan audit in Arizona was part of a larger effort by Republicans to undermine faith in the 2020 election and gain more control over the voting process. Since the election, several Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed laws curbing ballot access or placing great power over election administration in the hands of partisan officials.

Maricopa County election officials are scheduled to detail the findings of their report at a public meeting on Wednesday of the county Board of Supervisors.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Riot Shields And Metal Detectors Are A Reminder Of Trump's Insurrection ​​

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A year after then-President Donald Trump's supporters launched a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol, signs of heightened security are visible everywhere, from police riot shields ready near doorways to metal detectors outside the House of Representatives chamber.

Miles of steel fencing that ringed the Capitol complex after the riot came down in July. The thousands of armed National Guard troops deployed immediately after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack have long gone home.

But U.S. Capitol Police officers - in larger numbers and more heavily equipped than in the past - are posted around the grounds, while the department has added defensive equipment. Lighter fencing remains in place in some locations.

Once thronged by 2.5 million visitors a year, Capitol hallways now echo with emptiness. Almost everyone who comes into the complex must be a member of Congress or display a staff ID - a restriction prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congress passed a $2.1 billion bill in July that provided $100 million for the Capitol Police force, $300 million for new security measures and more than $1 billion for the Pentagon - of which $500 million will go to the National Guard, whose funds were depleted in the security ramp-up after the riot.

Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger, hired to revamp the force after the attack, on Wednesday acknowledged that lawmakers are seeing more security equipment around the Capitol.

"I'm sure that as you walk around the campus there's times when you pass through a door and you'll notice that there's a stack of shields behind the door. So we've got them deployed around the campus in case we need them," Manger said, adding that the force plans to hire about 280 more officers this year.

Manger has said the Capitol Police as an organization is stronger and better prepared now than before the riot and has worked to fix leadership, intelligence and planning failures.

Around 140 police officers were injured when Trump's supporters stormed the building, trying to prevent Congress from formally certifying his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden. The rioters fought with police for hours, smashed windows and sent lawmakers and staff running for their lives.

One officer who battled rioters died the day after the attack and four who guarded the Capitol later died by suicide. Four rioters also died, including a woman https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-death/woman-killed-in-siege-of-u-s-capitol-was-veteran-who-embraced-conspiracy-theories-idUSKBN29C2NV who was shot by a police officer while trying to climb through a shattered window in a door inside the Capitol leading into an area known as the Speaker's Lobby.

Lawmakers from both parties joined in calls for better security after the assault, but the reaction to various steps taken has been partisan. In particular, some House Republicans have voiced complaints about the five metal detectors installed at the entrances to the House chamber, where police on the day of the riot barricaded doors and lawmakers dove for cover as people in the mob tried to force their way in.

Some House Republicans, staunch defenders of gun rights, have called the metal detectors a political show, with congressmen Andrew Clyde and Louie Gohmert filing a lawsuit seeking their removal.

Security is due to be heavier than usual on Thursday, the anniversary of the attack. The House and Senate both are planning events to mark the anniversary and Biden plans to give a speech at the Capitol. The Senate is scheduled to be in session on Thursday. The House is not.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, on Wednesday said the false claims about a stolen election that underpinned last year's attack could bring fresh violence again at some point.

"The insurrection will not be an aberration. It well could become the norm," Schumer said, unless Congress addresses "the root causes" of Jan. 6 through election reforms.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

New York's Hochul Wants To Enact Term Limits

NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York Governor Kathy Hochul will propose a state constitutional amendment that would impose a term limit on governors and other high-ranking officials, her office said on Monday.

The proposal, which Hochul will detail in her first State of the State address on Wednesday, would limit governors to two four-year terms.

Hochul succeeded Andrew Cuomo in November when he resigned in the wake of a report from the state attorney accusing him of sexual harassment and other transgressions. When he stepped down, Cuomo was serving his third term as governor.

The news was first reported by the New York Times.

(Reporting by Tyler Clifford; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Omicron Teaches Hard Lesson As Schools Revamp Return From Holidays

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) - Many U.S. schools that would normally welcome students back to classrooms on Monday are delaying their start dates, scrambling to test pupils and teachers and preparing, as a last resort, to return to remote learning as record COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant sweep the country.

In Washington, D.C., all staff and 51,000 public school students must upload a negative test result to the district's website before coming to class on Wednesday. Tests administered before Tuesday will not be accepted. Parents can pick up rapid tests at their school or use their own.

Similar efforts are underway in California, which pledged to provide free home-test kits to all its 6 million K-12 public school students.

"There's a lot of COVID out there ... it's going to be a bumpy start," said Michelle Smith McDonald, director of communications and public affairs for the Alameda County Office of Education.

New COVID cases have hit record levels https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/united-states of 400,000 new infections a day on average due to the extremely transmissible nature of the Omicron variant. Health experts predict even more people will test positive following holiday gatherings, leading to millions of people in quarantine and isolation in the coming weeks.

Schools from Massachusetts to Michigan to Washington state were delaying classes a few days and asking students and staff to use that time to get tested for COVID.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has said shutting schools in the state should be only a last resort. But school administrators are worried about having enough teachers and other staff.

"There will probably be individual school closures, whether due to an outbreak, or not enough staff," McDonald said.

In line with updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the state has shortened its quarantine period for those exposed to someone with COVID or testing positive for COVID to five days from 10.

Scientists and health experts are concerned https://www.reuters.com/world/us/no-tests-no-problem-experts-question-new-us-cdc-policy-covid-isolation-period-2021-12-29 the policy fails to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, who recover from the virus at different rates. It also does not require testing to confirm that a person is no longer infectious before they end their quarantine.

California has recommended people have a negative COVID test before leaving isolation. Other states such as Illinois https://twitter.com/ISBEnews have not adopted the new CDC guidelines.

Asked about the confusion around testing, top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that the CDC will soon clarify whether people with COVID-19 should test negative to leave isolation.

The extent of the Omicron surge on the country's school districts probably will not be clear until next week. Already parents and administrators are struggling to implement changing guidance and figure out how many shots staff and older teenage students need to be considered fully vaccinated. This is the third school year disrupted by COVID, which has not only set students back academically but socially as well.

While early data suggests Omicron is less severe than previous coronavirus variants, Fauci warned hospitalizations could surge because of how quickly it spreads.

In just over three weeks, the number of hospitalized COVID patients rose 50 percent nationwide and COVID hospitalizations are at 70% of the previous peak in January 2021, according to a Reuters tally. Delaware, Maryland, Ohio and Washington, D.C., have more COVID patients hospitalized than at any other point in the pandemic. Delaware and Ohio have sent National Guard troops to hospitals to try to help with the surge.

New York City schools, the largest district in the country, are reopening as planned on Monday but with more testing for its nearly 1 million students. And instead of quarantining an entire classroom if one person tests positive, all students in the class will be given rapid at-home tests to use over the next seven days.

New York City Major Eric Adams told parents to "fear not" as they sent their children back to school.

"The safest place for children is inside a school. The number of transmissions is low," he told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.


Fauci: Hospitals Jeopardized By Overwhelming Rise In Omicron Infections

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) -Top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said there was still a danger of a surge in hospitalization due to a large number of coronavirus cases even as early data suggests the Omicron COVID-19 variant is less severe.

"The only difficulty is that if you have so many cases, even if the rate of hospitalization is lower with Omicron than it is with Delta, there is still the danger that you will have a surging of hospitalizations that might stress the healthcare system," Fauci said in an interview on Sunday with CNN.

The Omicron variant was estimated to be 58.6 percent of the coronavirus variants circulating in the United States as of December 25, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The sudden arrival of Omicron has brought record-setting case counts to countries around the world and dampened New Year festivities around the world..

"There will certainly be a lot more cases because this is a much more transmissible virus than Delta is," Fauci said on CNN.

However, "It looks, in fact, that it [Omicron] might be less severe, at least from data that we've gathered from South Africa, from the UK and even some from preliminary data from here in the United States," Fauci said.

Fauci added that the CDC will soon be coming out with a clarification on whether people with COVID-19 should test negative to leave isolation, after confusion last week over guidance that would let people leave after five days without symptoms.

The CDC had reduced the recommended isolation period for people with asymptomatic COVID to five days, down from 10. The policy does not require testing to confirm that a person is no longer infectious before they go back to work or socialize, causing some experts to raise questions.

"You're right. There has been some concern about why we don't ask people at that five-day period to get tested. That is something that is now under consideration", Fauci told ABC News in a separate interview on Sunday. "I think we're going to be hearing more about that in the next day or so from the CDC."

U.S. authorities registered at least 346,869 new coronavirus on Saturday, according to a Reuters tally. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 rose by at least 377 to 828,562.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mark Porter)

Wall Street Ends Tumultuous Year Near Record Highs

By Stephen Culp and Echo Wang

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street closed near record highs in light trading on Friday, the last trading day of 2021, marking the second year of recovery from a global pandemic.

All three major U.S. stock indexes scored monthly, quarterly and annual gains, notching their biggest three-year advance since 1999.

The S&P 500 gained 27 percent since the last trading day of 2020. Through Thursday, the benchmark index has registered 70 record-high closes, or the second-most ever. Using Refinitiv data back to 1928, the most record-high closes for the S&P 500 in a single year was 77 in 1995.

The Dow added 18.73 percent for the year, and the Nasdaq gained 21.4 percent.

Companies, consumers and the broader economy largely thrived in 2021 as they felt their way forward amid a constantly shifting landscape including a tumultuous transfer of power marked by the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Other factors included the "meme stock" phenomenon, new COVID-19 variants, a labor shortage, generous fiscal/monetary stimulus, hobbled supply chains, booming demand and the resulting price spikes.

"What stands out to us this year among all the negatives, is the resiliency of Corporate America," said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at LPL Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina. "In a sea of uncertainty and higher prices, you have to be extremely impressed by how agile and adaptive Corporate America was to sport 45% earnings growth in a very difficult year."

Indeed, earnings results from S&P 500 companies blew past analyst estimates to deliver year-on-year growth in the first three quarters of the year of 52.8 percent, 96.3 percent, and 42.6 percent, respectively, according to Refinitiv, which currently sees fourth-quarter annual earnings growth of 22.3 percent.

Energy <.SPNY>, real estate <.SPLRCR> and microchips <.SOX>, sectors associated with economic recovery and booming demand, were among 2021's top performers, with growth stocks' <.IGX> 31% advance handily outperforming the 22% gain in value <.IVX> stocks.

Market-leading tech and tech-adjacent megacap stocks, which outperformed the broader market in the first year of the global health crisis, were laggards as the economy slowly reopened and vaccines were deployed.

The NYSE FANG+ index <.NYFANG>, an equal-weighted group of 10 such stocks, notched a nearly 20 percent advance on the year. Google parent Alphabet Inc <GOOGL.O> posted the biggest annual advance among NYSE FANG+ constituents, enjoying its best year since 2009. [nL4N2TG1PT]

Dow Transports <.DJT>, considered by many a barometer of economic health, registered a yearly gain of more than 31 percent.

Steadily rising Treasury yields - along with a recent hawkish shift from the Federal Reserve, which now foresees as many as three rate hikes in the coming year - have supported interest rate-sensitive financials <.SPSY> which gained nearly 33 percent.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which burst onto the scene in early 2020 and prompted the steepest, quickest economic contraction in history, continues to linger, pressuring travel-related stocks.

The S&P 1500 Airlines index <.SPCOMAIR> ended 2021 as one of the year's few losing sectors with an annual decline of nearly 2%.

But early data suggests the Omicron variant, which has caused an abrupt spike in global infections, is less virulent than its predecessors and economic data is increasingly suggesting a return to normal, two years after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 59.78 points, or 0.16 percent, to 36,338.3, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 12.55 points, or 0.26 percent, to 4,766.18 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 96.59 points, or 0.61 percent, to 15,644.97.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 7.6 billion shares, compared with the 10.55 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, consumer staples sector <.SPLRCS> was up the most in Friday's session, with communications services <.SPLRCL> suffering the biggest percentage drop.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.39-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.18-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 47 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 58 new highs and 143 new lows.

((Reporting by Stephen Culp in New York and Echo Wang in Taos, New Mexico; Additional reporting by Medha Singh in Bangalore; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker))

Wall Street Slips On New Year's Eve As Market Clocks Robust 2021 Gains

(Reuters) - Wall Street's main indexes were subdued at open on Friday, looking to clock a third straight annual gain in a year fueled by massive stimulus, COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, and a strong retail participation.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 12.23 points, or 0.03 percent, at the open to 36,385.85.

The S&P 500 opened lower by 3.52 points, or 0.07 percent, at 4,775.21, while the Nasdaq Composite dropped 18.66 points, or 0.12 percent, to 15,722.91 at the opening bell.

(Reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

Biden, Manchin Had Long Chat About Spending Bill After Manchin Killed It

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden and Senator Joe Manchin spoke about the "Build Back Better" bill a day after the conservative Democratic senator publicly rejected the president's social spending plans, a White House adviser said on Friday.

"He (Biden) has some confidence about that (bill), including discussions he has had with Senator Manchin," Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House council of economic advisers, said in an interview with CNN on Friday.

"The president and Senator Manchin - the day after that announcement where the senator said he couldn't vote for the bill as it was - they were talking again."

Manchin, a conservative Democratic senator, rejected the president's Build Back Better plan earlier this month in a move that imperils the legislation.

Manchin's move prompted investment bank Goldman Sachs to lower its forecasts for U.S. economic growth. Manchin's rejection of the bill threatened to scuttle hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for measures to fight climate change and meet the Biden administration's climate goals.

Manchin has expressed concerns about a number of proposals in Biden's signature domestic policy bill, including multiple climate proposals and extending monthly child tax credit payments.

Biden told reporters after Manchin's rejection that he and the senator were "going to get something done" on the legislation.

Manchin's support is crucial in the Senate chamber where the Democrats have the slimmest margin of control and Republicans are united in their opposition to the bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said the chamber would vote on a package in early 2022.

U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, a leading liberal House Democrat, has asked Biden to continue focusing on the social spending legislation and urged him to use executive action despite Manchin's public rejection of the plan.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Louise Heavens and Alex Richardson)

January 6 Panel Delivers Blow To Trump's Bid To Shield Records

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) - The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to deny a request by former President Donald Trump to shield some of his White House records.

In a written brief, the committee asked the high court to leave in place a lower court ruling that cleared the way for investigators to see telephone records, visitor logs and other documents for the closing weeks of Trump's presidency.

"Although the facts are unprecedented, this case is not a difficult one," lawyers for the House of Representatives committee said in their brief.

The committee has said it needs the requested materials to understand the role Trump may have played in fomenting the riot.

More than 100 police officers were injured during the multi-hour onslaught by Trump supporters, and four officers have since taken their own lives.

U.S. President Joe Biden had previously determined that the records, which belong to the executive branch, should not be subject to executive privilege, which protects the confidentially of some internal White House communications, and that turning them over to Congress was in the country's best interests.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled this month that Trump had no basis to challenge Biden's decision to allow the documents to be handed over. That decision will remain on hold until the Supreme Court acts.

On Dec. 23, Trump asked the Supreme Court to block the release of White House records, arguing the committee's request is "exceedingly broad" and an "unprecedented encroachment on executive privilege."

The documents are with the National Archives, the U.S. government's official body for preserving government records.

The Select Committee's lawyers said in Thursday's brief that each passing day without the documents handicaps a committee whose authorization expires on Jan. 3, 2023.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Howard Goller)