Wednesday morning news – December 23, 2020

Trump signs omnibus, coronavirus relief legislation into law » President Trump last night threw a curveball in a plan to deliver coronavirus relief and government funding before Christmas. 

The president was widely expected to sign a $2.3 trillion package into law. But in a video address Tuesday night, he told the American people… 

TRUMP: The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated. It really is a disgrace. 

Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed the legislation on Monday night. It would provide more than $2 trillion worth of government funding and $900 billion dollars in coronavirus relief funds. 

It would also revive a federal boost to unemployment benefits, and refuel the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. 

But that’s not all it would do. The president ran down a laundry list of pork barrel spending tucked into the nearly 6,000 pages of legislation, including…

TRUMP: $25 million dollars for democracy and gender programs in Pakistan, $40 million dollars for the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., $1 billion dollars for the Smithsonian. 

The relief measure would send another round of direct stimulus checks to most Americans, something President Trump pressed lawmakers to include. But he said $600 per person and $600 per child is not enough. 

TRUMP: I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple.

He also challenged lawmakers to get rid of wasteful spending. 

He added that if Congress doesn’t send him a—quote—“suitable bill,” then “the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package.” 

Trump pardons 15, commutes 5 sentences » Also on Tuesday, President Trump pardoned 15 people and commuted the sentences of five others. 

Those pardoned included former Republican Congressmen Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York. 

Collins was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president. He was sentenced to more than two years in prison for insider trading. 

Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison for taking campaign funds for personal use. 

Trump also commuted the sentence of former Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas and pardoned a current state representative, Phil Lyman of Utah.

Despite speculation, though, not on the pardons list were members of Trump’s own family, his attorney Rudy Giuliani or the president himself.

Biden introduces his environmental team » President Elect Joe Biden has announced his incoming environmental team. During a news conference, he compared climate change to the coronavirus pandemic. 

BIDEN: Folks, we’re in a crisis. Just like we need to be a unified nation in response to COVID-19, we need a unified national response to climate change. 

Biden’s administration is expected to make a sharp u-turn away from Trump’s environmental policies. And the president-elect said there’s “no time to waste.”

BIDEN: We’ll bring America back – back into the Paris Agreement and put us back in the business of leading the world on climate change again.

Biden said his environmental team will reflect his commitment to racial diversity. His picks include the first Native American to lead the Interior Department and the first African American to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Both require Senate confirmation. 

Kilauea volcano explodes » AUDIO: [Volcano eruption]

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano is still rocketing lava, gas, and steam into the air. 

After more than two years of inactivity, it erupted into the clouds above the Big Island Sunday night. 

Kilauea then shook the ground in surrounding areas with a 4.4-magnitude earthquake. So far, no reports of damage in nearby residential areas. 

Tourists filed through the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to watch the eruption. 

BYSTANDER: Actually, we felt the earthquake, and then I went on social media and saw that the volcano was erupting. 

Officials are now urging Big Island residents to shelter indoors to avoid the falling ash.  

The last eruption in 2018 covered more than 13 square miles with lava and consumed more than 700 homes.

Feds sue Walmart over role in opioid crisis » The Department of Justice is suing Walmart, accusing it of fueling the nation’s opioid crisis. In the civil complaint filed Tuesday, the DOJ accuses the company of pressuring its pharmacies to fill even potentially suspicious prescriptions for the painkillers.

It also says Walmart used an inadequate system for detecting and reporting suspicious orders.

Walmart fought back in a statement, saying that the Justice Department’s investigation is—quote—“tainted by historical ethics violations.” It said the “lawsuit invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors, and is riddled with factual inaccuracies.”

States sue Google and Facebook, alleging secret pact » Meantime, ten states are accusing Facebook and Google of conspiring to—quote— “cooperate and assist one another” in the event of a state or federal investigation. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading a group of 10 states suing the companies. They say Facebook and Google made a secret pact to help each other if they’re ever investigated for cooperating in online advertising. 

The states say two years ago, the tech giants struck a deal.

Facebook wouldn’t compete with Google’s online advertising, and in return, and Facebook gets special treatment when using Google’s ad services. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that the lawsuit spells out some of the contract’s provisions, stating that the companies will—quote—“cooperate and assist each other in responding to any Antitrust Action.”

Google responded, saying there’s nothing unusual about agreements regarding possible antitrust threats. And a company spokesperson said the states’ “claims are inaccurate,” adding that the company does not give Facebook special deals on ad buys. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin. 

Israel heads for fourth election in two years » Israel is heading for a fourth election in two years. 

The country’s coalition government failed to reach a compromise on the country’s budget ahead of a Tuesday night deadline. 

That means parliament must dissolve and trigger a snap election in 90 days. That will bring Israelis back out to the polls for the fourth time since 2019. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and his opponent Benny Gantz Blue and White party agreed to a three-year power-sharing deal in April. But both sides failed to settle on a 2020 national budget since then.

(M. Patrick/U.S. Geological Survey via AP) A plume rises near active fissures in the crater of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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