September 24, 2020

Some of the biggest and most deadly COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S. stemmed from the meatpacking industry. But Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) was reluctant to call for accountability, including when it came to a Colorado-based plant Gardner received donations from, Business Insider reports.

Early in the pandemic, meatpacking factories' close quarters became home to massive COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the country. An outbreak at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colorado led to at least 291 confirmed cases and six deaths — the biggest localized outbreak in the state. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) explicitly called for an investigation at the facility, as did a JBS employee union, which called out Gardner for failing to provide promised coronavirus tests for workers. But Gardner wouldn't discuss the situation with Business Insider, and similarly avoided questions about JBS in a local radio interview.

Throughout his Senate career, Gardner has been one of the top recipients of donations from JBS; He has received $24,000 from the company over the years. This election cycle, he received the second most money from JBS of any senator, as well as the second largest contribution total from the meatpacking industry as a whole. Gardner is considered one of the most vulnerable senators this fall as he faces former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). Kathryn Krawczyk

3:34 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet picks started facing Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday morning, and the first few are slated for an easy approval.

Biden's Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen outlined a broad policy platform in her hearing, promising to focus on the coronavirus pandemic's devastating economic impact from "day one" and encouraging Congress to pass another relief package. Notably, she pledged to name a "very senior-level" official within the department focused on climate, noting "climate change itself and policies to address it could have major impacts, creating stranded assets, generating large changes in asset prices, credit risks, and so forth that could affect the financial system."

Avril Haines, Biden's nominee to be director of national intelligence, seemingly faced little opposition as she addressed tension with China and Iran's nuclear program, The Associated Press reports. Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas meanwhile faced concerns over a 2015 inspector general report contending he showed "an appearance of favoritism and special access" while working in DHS under Obama. Senate Homeland Security Committee Chair Rob Portman (R-Ohio) called the report "troubling," but conceded Mayorkas has "a lot of experience" in national security, Politico reports.

After the hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) blocked a unanimous measure to quickly consider Mayorkas. The nominee had promised to do everything he could to stop another violent uprising at the Capitol, something Hawley's opposition to the election allegedly helped inspire.

Yellen, Haines, and Mayorkas are expected to be among Biden's easiest nominees to confirm, bipartisan lawmakers and their aides tell Punchbowl News. Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken, whose hearing began Tuesday afternoon, is also expected to have a smooth confirmation process. Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin is meanwhile likely to face pushback over his recent military experience in his Tuesday afternoon hearing. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:21 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden delivered an emotional farewell to Delaware on Tuesday one day before his swearing-in, choking up while paying tribute to the state and to his late son, Beau Biden.

Biden spoke from Delaware before departing for Washington, D.C., and he became emotional from the top of the remarks as he thanked Delawareans who have been with him "through the good times and the bad" and said it's "deeply personal that our next journey to Washington starts here."

The president-elect went on to say he'll "always be a proud son of the state of Delaware," emotionally adding that "when I die, Delaware will be written on my heart." He concluded the speech by honoring his late son, Beau Biden, who served as attorney general for the state and died in 2015.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I only have one regret: that he's not here," Biden said. "Because we should be introducing him as president."

Biden was set to depart for Washington shortly after concluding his remarks. He'll be flying to the nation's capitol on a private aircraft, CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports, describing this as "yet another remarkable change in protocol." Zeleny adds, "No immediate word on why he wasn't offered — or isn't flying — on a U.S. government plane, which is standard for a president-elect." Brendan Morrow

3:19 p.m.

The United States recorded yet another lamentable milestone Tuesday, as data from Johns Hopkins University shows the country has surpassed 400,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The American death toll continues to lead the world in fatalities, nearly doubling Brazil's total, which is the second highest globally at more than 210,000.

It took just one month for U.S. COVID-19 fatalities to jump from 300,000 to 400,000 as the coronavirus surged across the country during the winter months and holiday season. The pandemic remains widespread in every state, though there's been a faint glimmer of hope that infections have begun to trend downward in recent days.

Regardless, experts believe there's still a long road ahead and — even with a massive, albeit slower-than-expected vaccination drive underway — the death toll could reach 500,000 by the end of February. Tim O'Donnell

2:00 p.m.

The Georgia Secretary of State's office on Tuesday certified the state's pair of Senate runoff votes, which means Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are set to be sworn into the upper chamber after defeating GOP incumbent Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) earlier this month.

Warnock and Ossoff will reportedly join fellow Democrat Alex Padilla, who is taking over Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' California seat, for a swearing-in ceremony Wednesday, not too long after Harris takes her own oath of office.

Once that's done, the Democratic Party will have the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, with Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote on matters that require it. Tim O'Donnell

1:57 p.m.

Two members of the National Guard have been removed from Inauguration Day security over ties to far-right militias, The Associated Press reports.

There was no plot found against President-elect Joe Biden, but the two guard members were removed over their connections to the unnamed militias, a U.S. Army official and a senior U.S. intelligence official told AP. The move comes after militia groups and other President Trump supporters attacked the Capitol earlier this month, and as federal law enforcement takes unprecedented steps to secure the Wednesday inauguration of Biden.

Thousands of National Guard members have been filing into the Capitol Hill area over the past week, shutting down the National Mall and surrounding streets amid fears of threats to the inauguration. Hundreds of guard members were spotting sleeping in the Capitol building last week.

In response to the reported removal, the National Guard Bureau told AP that "due to operational security, we do not discuss the process nor the outcome of the vetting process for military members supporting the inauguration." The Secret Service also would not comment. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:17 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is placing blame on President Trump for having "provoked" a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol building.

McConnell spoke Tuesday after the House of Representatives last week impeached Trump for "incitement of insurrection" following a deadly attack on the Capitol by his supporters. Though it's unclear how McConnell will vote in Trump's upcoming second Senate impeachment trial, the Republican leader made clear he believes the president is to blame for provoking the mob — as are others.

"The mob was fed lies," McConnell said. "They were provoked by the president and other powerful people."

The Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building earlier this month while Congress was meeting to certify President-elect Joe Biden's election win. Trump, who has falsely claimed he won the election, spoke at a rally beforehand to encourage the supporters to walk down to the Capitol building and "show strength."

McConnell hasn't said how he'll vote in the Senate impeachment trial. But last week, Axios reported that "there's a better than 50-50 chance" he would vote to convict the president. McConnell says he has "not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate." Brendan Morrow

12:52 p.m.

The United States on Tuesday officially declared China's campaign against Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, as well as other ethnic and religious minorities in the western Xinjiang province, a genocide. The U.S. is the first country to adopt the term to describe the human rights abuses (which Beijing denies), though officials hope it will compel other governments to take a harder stance against China on the issue, The New York Times reports.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his department came to the conclusion after a "careful" review, stating that the crimes include: arbitrary mass internment of more than 1 million people, forced sterilization, torture of those detained, forced labor, and restrictions on religious freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement. "I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state," Pompeo said.

The decision will likely be the Trump administration's final action on China, the Times notes. It's not clear yet how the incoming Biden administration will respond to the declaration, but the Biden campaign did publicly refer to the situation in Xinjiang as a genocide last year. Read more at The New York Times and Axios. Tim O'Donnell

See More Speed Reads