WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: He’s Now President Joe Biden

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Erin Schaff / The New York Times via AP, Pool
Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Erin Schaff / The New York Times via AP, Pool

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: He’s Now President Joe Biden

Good afternoon! It’s Wednesday, and people across the country are wearing pearls today to celebrate Vice President Kamala Harris, who is the first woman, first Black person and first Asian American to hold the office. Here’s what else you need to know.

(By the way, if you’d like this emailed to your inbox, you can sign up here.)

1. Biden begins reversing Trump policies during his first day in office

President Joe Biden is expected to sign 17 executive orders in the Oval Office today in an attempt to build momentum as he faces a pandemic that’s claimed more than 400,000 lives, an economic crisis that’s left millions of people jobless and a nation suffering from deep divisions.

Among Biden’s plans are rejoining the World Health Organization, revoking a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, rejoining the Paris climate agreement and stopping construction of former President Donald Trump’s border wall. [NPR]

Biden will also direct the Department of Education to extend a student loan payment freeze through Sept. 30. [NPR]

Biden today began his Inaugural Address saying: “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day.” If you missed it, you can find the address in this link along with annotations from NPR reporters. [NPR]

Some supporters say they wish Vice President Kamala Harris could have received more of the traditional pomp and circumstance. “Can you imagine if we weren’t in the pandemic?” [NPR]

Meanwhile, Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, hailed as a hero for his actions during this month’s attempted coup, escorted Harris during the inauguration. [NPR]

And here’s the inside story on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ mittens. [Los Angeles Times]

2. Trump’s final act as president was pardoning the ex-husband of a Fox News host

Right before leaving office, former President Donald Trump announced a last-minute pardon for Al Pirro, the former husband to Fox New host Jeanine Pirro. Al Pirro was convicted of tax charges in 2000.

Pirro’s pardon is in addition to 73 pardons and 70 commutations that were announced earlier in the final hours of Trump’s presidency. Among those pardoned were his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, rapper Lil Wayne and Casey Urlacher, the brother of Bears great Brian Urlacher, who visited the White House last year.

Not on the list: Trump himself or any of his children. [NPR]

Trump also revoked a rule that created a five-year lobbying ban for administration officials. Trump put the rule into effect during his early days in office as part of his pledge to “drain the swamp.” [NPR]

3. A new coronavirus variant is discovered in California

Scientists discovered the new variant late last month, and they say more tests need to be conducted to determine if it’s more contagious than other strains of the virus. There’s no evidence that the variant, known as CAL.20C, is more lethal.

But some scientists say the variant may be playing a role in California’s surge in infections that has overwhelmed hospitals. CAL.20C is believed to have popped up in California in July, but it didn’t spread quickly until November, according to The New York Times.

Scientists discovered CAL.20C as they were searching coronavirus samples for evidence of a different, fast-spreading variant that was first found in Britain.

“We had our own problem that didn’t cross over from Europe,” Jasmine Plummer, a research scientist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told the Times. “It really originated here, and it had the chance to start to emerge and surge over the holiday.” [New York Times]

In Illinois, the average number of cases and deaths is declining. State officials today reported 4,822 new confirmed cases and 107 deaths. [WBEZ]

4. The Chicago Teachers Union could take its first step toward a strike today

The union’s governing body, called the House of Delegates, is meeting today and expected to begin a process that could ultimately see teachers walk off the job, reportedly as soon as Monday.

But all of this chatter about a potential strike could just be talk.

As WBEZ’s Sarah Karp reports, “unlike the strike in the fall of 2019, this strike talk doesn’t appear automatically destined to result in a walkout. Both the union and the school district seem intent on reaching a deal to avoid a strike that could leave upwards of 280,000 children unable to even attend remote classes in the middle of a pandemic.”

The Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration are locked in an escalating fight over reopening schools to in-person learning. The union questions whether it’s safe and wants to set up a voluntary system for teachers to return. Lightfoot, meanwhile, has tried shifting the debate as a “matter of equity,” saying students of color have less access to remote learning. [WBEZ]

5. Carjackings were up 135% in Chicago last year

Chicago ended 2020 with 1,415 carjackings, more than double the 603 reported during the previous year, reports Block Club Chicago.

And the surge isn’t showing signs of slowing down in 2021. In just the first 10 days of the new year, 61 carjackings have been reported, putting 2021 on pace to break a new record.

As Block Club Chicago reports, the surge has caused some people to seek concealed carry permits.

“I’ve had customers who were victims of carjackings then suddenly conceal carry became their No. 1 priority because they never want to experience that again, and if they do, they want to have a chance,” the owner of Illinois Protect and Conceal, which offers courses on gun safety and self-defense, told Block Club. [Block Club Chicago]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson said his investigation into the botched police raid of Anjanette Young’s home will look at possible “possible misconduct” by city officials. [WTTW]
  • Some Illinois residents next in line to get a COVID-19 vaccine say they are feeling anxious and confused. [WBEZ]
  • The parent company for the Chicago Tribune is being sued for $4.8 million in unpaid rent. [Chicago Tribune]
  • Scientists finally have a 3D model of a dinosaur’s, um, orifice. [Live Science]

Oh, and one more thing …

Some good news for parents who are running out of things to watch with their kids. All five seasons of The Muppet Show will begin streaming on Disney+ on Feb. 19.

Disney, which acquired the Muppets in 2004, released a “statement” from host and producer Kermit.

“Today, I’m proud to say: ‘It’s time to play the music, light the lights and meet the Muppets on Disney Plus tonight!’ And as for Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys in the balcony, I can only add: ‘Sorry, guys, but….here we go again.’ ” [Variety]

Tell me something good …

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’d like to know who is one of your favorite Black authors.

Theo tweets:

“One of my favorite authors is @nkjemisin! I’m making my way through her Broken Earth trilogy now. I’m a big fan of fantasy, and I think her vivid characters and rich world building make these books absolutely live up to the hype. They are unlike anything else I’ve read.”

And Joan tweets:

“One of my fav Black authors? Can’t pick 1! Isabel Wilkerson, Eddie Glaude, Frederick Douglass, George Yancy, Ijeoma Oluo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Natalie Moore, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes & from teen years- Malcolm X (& Alex Haley).”

Feel free to email me at therundown@wbez.org or tweet me at @whuntah.

Have a nice night! If you like what you just read, you can subscribe to the newsletter here and have it delivered to your inbox.