Second stimulus check: news summary for 18 January

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$2,000 stimulus check updates today: Biden $1,400 third payment, who is eligible, dates | Live

Stimulus checks: live updates - 18 January


- Stimulus check of up to $1,400 included in President-elect Joe Biden's $1.9tn American Rescue Plan

Biden set to sign raft of executive orders immediately after taking office

- New president's executive action will include rejoining Paris climate accord and reversing Muslim travel ban

- Trump set to issue over 100 pardons on Tuesday

- Covid cases (USA): total 24.07 million - 398,981 deaths

National Guard mobilises across US ahead of Inauguration Day

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Covid-19 test

MLK Day testing drive

A nurse changes gloves before administering a coronavirus test at a drive-through testing event targeting underserved communities on Martin Luther King Day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Monday.

(REUTERS/Hannah Beier)

Biden's minimum-wage proposal: the lowdown

As part of his American Rescue Plan, Joe Biden has called for an increase in the federal minimum wage - but the plan looks set to encounter early opposition.

Full story:

Lil Wayne

Trump clemency likely for Lil Wayne, no pardons for Giuliani or Bannon - sources

US President Donald Trump is likely to grant clemency to rapper Lil Wayne on Tuesday in a final wave of pardons and commutations that is not expected to include lawyer Rudy Giuliani or ex-aide Steve Bannon, sources said on Monday.

Trump is expected to issue more than 100 pardons and commutations on his last full day in office. Two sources familiar with the discussions, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Trump appeared to have been dissuaded from pardoning himself or members of his family.

Lil Wayne pleaded guilty last month to possessing a loaded, gold-plated handgun when his chartered jet landed in Miami in December 2019. He faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison at a 28 January hearing in Miami.

Lil Wayne appeared to support Trump during last year's presidential campaign when he tweeted a photo of himself with the president and said he backed Trump's criminal justice reform program and economic plan for African Americans.

The sources confirmed a New York Times report that the list of pardons and commutations is expected to include former New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, 76, who was convicted of corruption charges in 2015.

Trump's list is not expected to include Giuliani, the Trump private lawyer who has been a vocal proponent of the president's claims of voter fraud in the 3 November presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.

The sources also said not expected to get a pardon is Steve Bannon, who helped Trump win election in 2016 and was a senior White House adviser. Bannon, 66, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he defrauded donors to "We Build the Wall," an online fundraising campaign that raised $25 million.

Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, was also not expected to get a pardon, the sources said. The US Justice Department in 2019 asked Britain to extradite Assange to the country to face charges that he conspired to hack US government computers and violated an espionage law.

A British judge ruled two weeks ago Assange should not be extradited to the US, saying his mental health problems meant he would be at risk of suicide.

(Reuters; photo: Reuters/Steve Marcus//File Photo)

Joe Biden's plans for his first 10 days in White House

Biden’s Chief of Staff has outlined swift-moving plans on core policies to tackle covid-19, economy, the environment and immigration, among others.

Read the full story:

Trump removes covid-19 travel restrictions on Europe and Brazil

With less than 48 hours left in his presidency, President Trump announced late Monday that he's lifting covid-19-related travel restrictions he placed on foreign nationals coming from much of Europe and Brazil. Travel restrictions will continue for most coming from China and Iran.

The restrictions would be lifted as of January 26, after President-elect Joe Biden comes into office, and Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki tweeted Monday that the new administration does not intend to lift the travel conditions on January 26.

"With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," Psaki wrote.

Mr. Trump cited coordination with U.S. officials and transparency as the justification for lifting travel restrictions on Europe and Brazil.

Biden to cancel Keystone XL pipeline on day one

It is also now being widely reported that the words "Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit" appear on a lengthier briefing note circulated following Klain’s announcement Saturday from the Biden transition team with US stakeholders. 

The controversial pipeline has had a turbulent start to life, having been vetoed by Barack Obama in 2015. Trump restarted construction in 2019. Native American groups and environmentalists alike have been fighting the project for over ten years.

The pipeline is projected to carry oil nearly 1,900km from the Canadian province of Alberta down to Nebraska, to join an existing pipeline.

Biden volunteered at food bank to honour MLK

President-elect Joe Biden volunteered at the Philabundance food bank in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he helped pack canned food into boxes to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

What executive orders will Joe Biden sign first?

In his first days in office, Biden plans to sign a blitz of executive orders targeting the pandemic, the economy, climate change and racial injustice.

What is MLK Day?

MLK became the first modern private individual to have a national holiday honor him, the struggle to bring it to fruition matched that of the movement he led. 

Read full story:

Melania says farewell 

The Trumps are set to leave the White House at 8 am on Wednesday en route for Mar-a-Lago before the swearing in of President-elect Joe Biden at noon. In a farewell speech to the US, Melania reflects on her time in as the First Lady and give thanks to the American people, calling on people to “Be Best.” 

“No words can express the depth of my gratitude to the American people.” Melania Trump 

Wall street gets a new sheriff 

President-elect Biden continues to set up his administration that will take charge 20 January. He has named Gary Gensler to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, a nomination that will be popular with progressives and make Wall Street sit up and take note. Gensler is known as the toughest regulator under Obama and signals a tougher stance by the Biden administration towards Wall Street.

The cost of delay 

Congress passed a $900 billion coronavirus relief package at the eleventh hour in December providing among other things $600 direct payments and extended unemployment benefits set to expire on 26 December. The bill called for additional paperwork from beneficiaries to avoid fraud. Due to the lateness of the bill passing Congress and President Trump refusal to sign the bill until 28 December UI benefits lapsed and federal and state officials did not have enough time to reset the program without a gap. 

Nerves are fraying for Coloradans who were receiving payments from the PUA and FEUC are now entering their fourth week without a paycheck, while the state works as fast as it can to reprogram the state’s computer system to get the money flowing.

Bad reaction pauses use of vaccine in CA

As the Biden administration prepares to take charge of the vaccination effort across the US, California has paused the use of one batch of Moderna vaccines. The move came after “higher-than-usual” number of allergic reactions occurred at a mass vaccination clinic at Petco Park in San Diego. There were fewer than 10 allergic reactions reported and occurred in a 24-hour span and requiring medical care. The batch of more than 330,000 doses were sent to 287 providers across the state. 

People with severe allergic reactions are cautioned about taking vaccines although allergic reactions to vaccines are not common, they are a possibility.

On pins and needles 

The US Capitol complex was shut down for about an hour on Monday out of an abundance of caution after a small fire broke out nearby, underscoring security jitters days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

The Capitol Police in a statement said the lockdown was lifted and the fire nearby was contained. 

“Out of an abundance of caution the U.S. Capitol complex was temporarily shut down. There is no threat to the public,” the US Secret Service said on Twitter. Reuters 

Amidst massive income and wealth inequality tens of millions of Americans are working for starvation wages. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, at least $15 an hour. No more excuses. We need to act NOW.

Bernie Sanders, Senator for Vermont (I)

A musical inauguration

Biden and Harris will both be sworn-in as new President and Vice-President of the United states respectively in Washington DC with a playlist to celebrate the event.

Find out what songs will be playing:

Coronavirus vaccine passports 

With travel restrictions in place across the globe business as usual came to a halt last spring. Tech companies are looking to remedy that by creating vaccination passports or certificates that could bring about safer travel and speed up the return to normalcy. 

Public health officials are wary of vaccine passports as a tool to prove immunity to the coronavirus noting that there still is not enough data on the efficacy and safety of the vaccines making the passports risky. 

Until herd immunity is achieved through vaccination programs the economy cannot fully reopen. The incoming Biden has pledged to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his administration. The clock will start ticking on Wednesday when he is inaugurated as the 46th President.

Remembering MLK in his own words

Martin Luther King gave over 2,500 public speeches during his lifetime – many of them were delivered without a manuscript and with few notes, including, “I have a dream”.

Read the full story:

Kamala Harris formally resigns from Senate 

As of 12 noon ET, 18 January, 2021, Kamala Harris is no longer a US Senator for the State of California. The Vice President-elect formally submitted her resignation letter to Governor Gavin Newsom as she prepares for her inauguration on 20 January.

The balance of power in the Senate is now 51-47, with two vacancies. The Senate will be evenly split when Kamala's replacement Democrat Padilla is sworn in and the results from the Georgia senatorial runoff elections are certified, expected by inauguration day, and the two Democratic Senators-elect, Warnock and Ossoff, are sworn in.

Income inequality 

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour is part of the American Rescue Plan presented by Joe Biden last week. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 1.6 million workers earned wages at or below the federal minimum made up 1.9 percent of all hourly paid workers in 2019. At the current minimum wage a full-time worker would earn just over $15,000 annually, less than half the US median annual wage. The US poverty threshold is about $13,064. 

Gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would directly lift the wages of 28.1 million workers. The average directly affected worker who works all year would receive a $3,900 increase in annual wage income—equal to a raise of 20.9 percent as per the Economic Policy Institute.

Biden expected to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline permit on first day in office

New York Times - President-elect Joe Biden is expected to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit on his first day in office, quickly reversing his predecessor’s approval of a project to move oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, according to a person familiar with Biden’s plans for his first days in office.

Environmentalists have long targeted the nearly 1,200-mile pipeline as both a contributor to climate change and a physical symbol of the country’s unwillingness to move away from an oil-based economy. Many Republicans, including President Donald Trump, argued the pipeline would create jobs and help local economies.

In late-2015, former President Barack Obama rejected the permit for the project, arguing it would undermine American leadership on the transition to sustainable fuels. Trump’s administration reversed that decision in early 2017, giving a green light for construction of the project to begin.


Rehearsals for Biden's inauguration 

US military units march in front of the US Capitol as they rehearse for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony in Washington today.

Joe Biden's ambitious plan to address climate change

Incoming president Joe Biden’s goals include carbon-free electricity by 2035, more wind and solar to get the nation to net-zero emissions and 100% clean energy by 2050. He is also advocating upgrading millions of homes to make them more energy efficient. How he will achieve this ambitious plan or pass a new climate change bill remains to be seen. 

Martin Luther King Day: what did MLK do and how did he die?

On the third Monday of every January, the US celebrates Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday that pays tribute to the civil rights activist.

Read more:

Trump to fly out of DC at 8 am on Wednesday

Donald Trump will leave the White House and fly out of Washington DC early on Wednesday morning. Before making his exit, he will issue approximately 100 pardons to white-collar criminals, high-profile rappers and jailed Palm Beach eye-doctor Dr Salomon Melgen, according to reports.

Trump is expected to hold a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland, on the morning of Joe Biden's inauguration. He will then depart the nation's capital on Air Force One and fly to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Are post offices open and will mail be delivered on Martin Luther King Day?

Martin Luther King Day today is a federal holiday in America, so many national institutions will close including banks and the US Postal Service.

Full details:


Trump approval rating at all-time low, but 32% believe Biden didn't win election legitimately

A CNN poll has found that Donald Trump now has his lowest-ever approval rating as US president as he prepares to leave the White House. According to the results of the survey, just 34% of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the presidency, down by 8% from a pre-election poll.

Meanwhile, 54% of those surveyed by CNN said that Trump, who has been impeached by the House of Representatives for his role in this month’s siege of the US Capitol, should be removed from office before his term ends on Wednesday for his actions in the lead-up to the riots.

However, the same poll also found that 32% of Americans believe President-elect Joe Biden did not legitimately win the US presidency in November’s election.

CNN/SSRS poll results in full


US security US Capitol National Guard

Heightened security at US Capitol ahead of Biden inauguration

Members of the US National Guard stand watch at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Sunday, during a nationwide protest called by anti-government and far-right groups supporting US President Donald Trump and his claim of electoral fraud in the 3 November presidential election.

The FBI warned authorities in all 50 states to prepare for armed protests at state capitols in the days leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday.


US celebrates Martin Luther King Day

Today see the US observe Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday that pays tribute to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, and celebrates his leading role in the American civil rights movement in the mid-20th century.

Here's a brief look back at Dr King's life and what happens in the US on MLK Day:


Who would be eligible for a $1,400 stimulus check under Joe Biden’s proposal?

Joe Biden released his American Rescue Plan, which includes a $1,400 stimulus check that offers expanding access to groups that missed out on the previous payments.

Full details:


Biden prepares raft of executive orders

Joe Biden is preparing to begin his term as US president by immediately signing a string of executive orders reversing policies put in place by predecessor Donald Trump, it has been reported.

According to a memo by Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, the President-elect is to sign orders that include rejoining the Paris climate agreement and rescinding the US travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries.

Biden is also expected to issue coronavirus-related mandates focusing on areas such as mask-wearing, and seek to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border and.

“During the campaign, President-elect Biden pledged to take immediate action to start addressing these crises and build back better," Klain said in the memo, per The New York Times.

"As president, he will keep those promises and sign dozens of executive orders, presidential memoranda, and directives to Cabinet agencies in fulfillment of the promises he made."


When will Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan be approved?

The American Rescue Plan aims to heal the ailing US economy with ambitious proposals; whether they are bold enough or too bold will decide its fate.

Full story:

Trump prepares over 100 pardons, self-pardon currently ruled out

US President Donald Trump at this point is opting not to issue a pardon for himself as he prepares an expansive list of more than 100 pardons and commutations for release on Tuesday, a source familiar with the effort said.

White House advisers have said Trump has privately debated with advisers whether to take the extraordinary step of issuing a pardon for himself but some administration officials have cautioned Trump against a self-pardon because it would make him look guilty.

Many scholars have said a self-pardon would be unconstitutional because it violates the basic principle that nobody should be the judge in his or her own case.

Others have argued that a self-pardon is constitutional because the pardon power is very broadly worded in the Constitution. Historical texts made clear that the nation’s 18th century founders discussed self-pardons, but opted not to include an explicit limitation on that power.

Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last week on charges of inciting the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January by pro-Trump protesters. His case is to face a Senate trial and if convicted, he could be disqualified from seeking another run for the presidency in 2024.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said so far Trump does not plan to pardon himself and also does not plan to issue preemptive pardons for members of his family, another subject he has discussed privately with advisers.

Trump, who has already issued two waves of pardons in the past month, met advisers on Sunday to finalize a list of more than 100 pardons and commutations, the source said.

Trump's presidency ends at noon on Wednesday.


Stimulus checks and US latest news: welcome

Hello and welcome to our dedicated daily blog bringing you the latest information on the second and third rounds of stimulus checks.

We'll also provide you with live US political news as President Donald Trump prepares to leave office and Washington gets ready for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.