In Brief: May 20, 2021

House backs commission on Jan. 6 riot over GOP objections

WASHINGTON — The House voted Wednesday to create an independent commission on the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, sending the legislation to an uncertain future in the Senate as Republican leaders work to stop a bipartisan investigation that is opposed by former President Donald Trump.

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Democrats say an independent investigation is crucial to reckoning what happened that day, when a violent mob of Trump’s supporters smashed into the Capitol to try and overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. Modeled after the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the legislation would establish an independent, 10-member commission that would make recommendations by the end of the year for securing the Capitol and preventing another insurrection.

The bill passed the House 252-175, with 35 Republicans voting with Democrats in support of the commission, defying Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. Trump issued a statement urging Republicans to vote against it, calling the legislation a “Democrat trap.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is trying to prevent defections among his own ranks, echoing McCarthy’s opposition in a Senate floor speech Wednesday morning. Both men claimed the bill was partisan, even though membership of the proposed commission would be evenly split between the parties.

Republicans rebel against mask requirement in House chamber

WASHINGTON — Republicans are rebelling against the requirement that they wear a mask on the House floor, stoking tensions with majority Democrats who are refusing to change the rules following updated guidance from federal health officials.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., led an effort Wednesday to get the Office of the Attending Physician to update its guidance for mask wearing for vaccinated lawmakers and staff while they are in the House chamber and in committee hearing rooms, but Democrats defeated it along a party-line vote of 218-210.

From wire sources

Lawmakers can remove their masks when speaking on the House floor, but otherwise must keep it on when they are in the chamber. There is no requirement for wearing masks in the Senate chamber.

Democratic lawmakers say they are tired of the requirements, too, but they worry that some of their Republican colleagues have declined to be vaccinated and could spread the virus.

Some GOP lawmakers opted to go without a mask during votes Tuesday, with a few taking particular care to stand in the well of the chamber to ensure that spectators, colleagues and C-SPAN’s cameras could not miss them.

Gaza’s health system buckling under repeated wars, blockade

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip’s already feeble health system is being brought to its knees by the fourth war in just over a decade.

Hospitals have been overwhelmed with waves of dead and wounded from Israel’s bombardment. Many vital medicines are rapidly running out in the tiny, blockaded coastal territory, as is fuel to keep electricity going.

Two of Gaza’s most prominent doctors, including the No. 2 in Gaza’s coronavirus task force, were killed when their homes were destroyed during barrages since fighting between Hamas and Israel erupted 10 days ago.

Just as Gaza was climbing out of a second wave of coronavirus infections, its only virus testing lab was damaged by an airstrike and has been shut down. Health officials fear further outbreaks among tens of thousands of displaced residents crammed into makeshift shelters after fleeing massive barrages.

At one U.N.-run school where 1,400 people were taking shelter, Nawal al-Danaf and her five children were crammed into a single classroom with five other families. Blankets draped over cords crisscrossed the room to carve out sleeping spaces.

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‘City in transition’: New York vies to turn page on pandemic

NEW YORK — More than a year after coronavirus shutdowns sent “the city that never sleeps” into a fitful slumber, New York could be wide awake again this summer.

Starting Wednesday, vaccinated New Yorkers could shed their masks in most situations, and restaurants, stores, gyms and many other businesses could go back to full capacity if they ascertain that all patrons have been inoculated.

Subways resumed running round-the-clock this week. Midnight curfews for bars and restaurants will be gone by month’s end. Broadway tickets are on sale again, though the curtain won’t rise on any shows until September.

Officials say now is New York’s moment to shake off the image of a city brought to its knees by the virus last spring — a recovery poignantly rendered on the latest cover of The New Yorker magazine. It shows a giant door part-open to the city skyline, letting in a ray of light.

Is the Big Apple back to its old, brash self?

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‘I’m scared’: AP obtains video of deadly arrest of Black man

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana state troopers were captured on body camera video stunning, punching and dragging a Black man as he apologized for leading them on a high-speed chase — footage of the man’s last moments alive that The Associated Press obtained after authorities refused to release it for two years.

“I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!” Ronald Greene can be heard telling the white troopers as the unarmed man is jolted repeatedly with a stun gun before he even gets out of his car along a dark, rural road.

The 2019 arrest outside Monroe, Louisiana, is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. But unlike other in-custody deaths across the nation where body camera video was released almost immediately, Greene’s case has been shrouded in secrecy and accusations of a cover-up.

Louisiana officials have rebuffed repeated calls to release footage and details about what caused the 49-year-old’s death. Troopers initially told Greene’s family he died on impact after crashing into a tree during the chase. Later, State Police released a one-page statement acknowledging only that Greene struggled with troopers and died on his way to the hospital.

Only now in the footage obtained by the AP from one trooper’s body camera can the public see for the first time some of what happened during the arrest.

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Down syndrome abortion bans gain traction after court ruling

It’s a ban that even supporters acknowledge will be hard to enforce. Yet 2021 has been a breakthrough year for legislation in several states seeking to prohibit abortions based solely on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Governors in Arizona and South Dakota recently signed such bills into law, and similar measures are pending in North Carolina and Texas. Most significantly, a federal appellate court said Ohio could begin to implement a 2017 law that has been on hold.

Although that ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals conflicted with other federal court decisions, anti-abortion activists say it increases the chances that the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to consider a case addressing the challenging issues the legislation poses. That could clear the path for bans to be enacted in some other states where courts are blocking them.

Just this week, the high court – with a 6-3 conservative majority resulting from three appointments by former President Donald Trump – signaled its willingness to reconsider the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion. The justices agreed to consider a Mississippi law that seeks to ban abortions after 15 weeks. Roe essentially legalized any abortion taking place before a fetus could survive outside the mother’s womb, generally around 24 weeks.

Katherine Beck Johnson, a lawyer with the conservative Family Research Council, acknowledged that the Down syndrome laws might be easy to circumvent. Doctors could tell women not to share their specific reasons for wanting an abortion.

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Texas executes inmate who killed his great aunt in 1999

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A Texas man convicted of fatally beating his 83-year-old great aunt more than two decades ago was executed Wednesday evening, despite requests from some of the victim’s family to spare his life.

Quintin Jones received the lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the September 1999 killing of Berthena Bryant. Prosecutors said after Bryant refused to lend Jones money, he beat her with a bat in her Forth Worth home then took $30 from her purse to buy drugs.

Reporters from The Associated Press and The Huntsville Item, the local newspaper, were scheduled as media witnesses to the punishment but never were escorted by corrections agency officials from an office across the street from the prison. There was no immediate explanation for the media exclusion. Jones became the 571st inmate to receive lethal injection in Texas since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982 and the first without a media witness.

Typically,, the agency’s public information office receives a call from the prison warden’s office that all appeals have been exhausted, the execution is about to move forward and the media witnesses may be brought in. On Wednesday evening, that call never was made.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to halt the 41-year-old man’s execution.

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Chicago mayor: Reporters of color get 2-year mark interviews

CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday that she will grant one-on-one interviews to mark the two-year anniversary of her inauguration solely to journalists of color, saying she has been struck by the “overwhelmingly” white press corps in Chicago.

“I ran to break up the status quo that was failing so many,” Lightfoot, who is Black, tweeted, also issuing a detailed letter to City Hall reporters on her decision. “That isn’t just in City Hall. It’s a shame that in 2021, the City Hall press corps is overwhelmingly White in a city where more than half of the city identifies as Black, Latino, AAPI or Native American.”

While the move isn’t unprecedented in recent years, it drew fierce scrutiny among the city’s press corps and beyond with members of the media quickly taking Lightfoot to task for her decision.

Lightfoot’s choice was made public late Tuesday when longtime WMAQ-TV political reporter Mary Ann Ahern, who is white, tweeted about it — a post that drew more than 5,000 comments. Some praised the mayor, while others were angry.

“I am a Latino reporter @chicagotribune whose interview request was granted for today. However, I asked the mayor’s office to lift its condition on others and when they said no, we respectfully canceled,” tweeted Chicago Tribune City Hall reporter Gregory Pratt. “Politicians don’t get to choose who covers them.”

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Pioneering comic Paul Mooney, a writer for Pryor, dies at 79

NEW YORK — Paul Mooney, the boundary-pushing comedian who was Richard Pryor’s longtime writing partner and whose bold, incisive musings on racism and American life made him a revered figure in stand-up, has died. He was 79.

Cassandra Williams, Mooney’s publicist, said he died Wednesday morning at his home in Oakland, California, from a heart attack.

Mooney’s friendship and collaboration with Pryor began in 1968 and lasted until Pryor’s death in 2005. Together, they confronted racism perhaps more directly than it ever had been before onstage.

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Mooney wasn’t as widely known as Pryor, but his influence on comedy was ubiquitous. As head writer on “In Living Color,” Mooney helped create and inspire the Homey D. Clown character. He played the future-foretelling Negrodamus on “Chappelle’s Show.”

In any forum, Mooney was uniquely fearless as a comedian. His blunt confrontations with racism and power in white America could be hysterical or simply defiantly unflinching. In his 2012 special “The Godfather of Comedy,” he said the only way to end racism was to “kill every white person on this planet.” Mooney considered himself “the first comic to bring a ‘just between us’ Black voice to the stage.”

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