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News Wrap: Congress overrides Trump’s veto of defense bill

In our news wrap Friday, Congress overrides a veto by President Trump for the first time, the U.S officially passes 20 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, the pandemic mutes New Year's celebrations, Senators wrangle over increasing pandemic relief checks, and Vice President Mike Pence asks a federal judge to toss out a lawsuit aiming to overturn the Electoral College results.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    On this first day of 2021, the United States is marking a sober milestone. We have officially passed 20 million confirmed cases of COVID-19. That amounts to nearly a quarter of all cases worldwide. And the number of U.S. deaths from COVID is nearing 350,000.

    There is also word that a new, more contagious variant of the virus, first seen in Britain, has appeared in 33 countries. In the U.S., California, Colorado, and Florida have all reported cases.

    The pandemic's grip forced muted New Year's celebrations today. The annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, was one of many events canceled nationwide.

    Overseas, the Vatican's Saint Peter's Square lay empty, as Pope Francis reflected on 2020.

  • Pope Francis (through translator):

    The painful events that marked humanity's journey last year, especially the pandemic, taught us how much it is necessary to take an interest in others' problems and to share their concerns.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will return to the pandemic's front lines in this country after the news summary.

    For the first time, the United States Congress has overridden a veto by President Trump. Senators rejected his veto of the annual defense policy bill in a rare New Year's Day session. The House of Representatives had already voted to override. The president wanted the bill to strip protections for tech companies, among other things.

    Senators wrangled again today over increasing pandemic relief checks to $2,000. Texas Republican John Thune argued too many better-off Americans would qualify under the distribution formula. He accused supporters of bigger checks of misrepresenting the facts as he debated Vermont independent Bernie Sanders on the Senate floor.

  • Sen. John Thune:

    A family of five making $250,000 would receive a $5,000 benefit. Now, just to put that in perspective, Mr. President, that's more than was paid to a middle-class family of five under the CARES Act that we passed back in March.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    When did you suddenly become a religious adherent about concern with socialism for the rich, when you gave 83 percent of the benefits to the rich and large corporations in the tax bill that you supported?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Correction: Senator John Thune is from South Dakota, not from Texas. Our apology.

    Divisions within Republican ranks were also on display. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley said that President Trump and many others support $2,000 checks.

  • Sen. Josh Hawley:

    The House adopted it. And a majority of senators have said already publicly that they support it. And yet we can't seem to even get a vote on it. We can't even seem to have debate on it.

    I mean, with all due respect. this doesn't seem to me to be a Republicans-vs.-Democrats issue. This seems to be the Senate vs. the United States of America.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the end, Republican leaders again blocked a vote.

    The current Congress adjourns for good on Sunday.

    Vice President Mike Pence has asked a federal judge to reject a lawsuit aimed at overturn the Electoral College results. Mr. Pence will preside when — next week when Congress counts the electors' votes. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert is leading a legal challenge that says the vice president alone should control which votes to count.

    Figures from a number of American cities today showed a spike in killings in the year just ended. Chicago alone had 769 homicides. That is almost 300 more than in 2019. Detroit, New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities also reported more killings. Police and experts cite the COVID-19 and a wave of anti-police sentiment as factors.

    In Iraq, explosive experts spent this New Year's Day trying to defuse a mine planted on the hull of an oil tanker. The ship was just off the Iraqi oil port of Basra when the mine was discovered on Thursday. The incident comes amid heightened tensions in the region with Iran.

    This weekend marks the first anniversary of a U.S. drone strike that killed Iran's General Qasem Soleimani. He was commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard. Today, Iranian leaders warned the U.S. against any new military pressure.

    At a ceremony in Tehran, Soleimani's successor also issued a veiled threat of new acts of revenge for the killing even inside the U.S.

  • Gen. Esmail Ghaani (through translator):

    By this crime, you have given motivation to freedom-seekers all around the world. Rest assured that, even within your own home, there might be persons who want to respond to the crime that you have committed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Soleimani's — after Soleimani's killing, Iran did fire a missile at a military base in Iraq. About 100 U.S. troops suffered brain concussion injuries.

    And the new year marked a new era for Britain and the European Union, with their economies now formally detached from one another. Ferries and trucks moved between England and France today through the Channel Tunnel without major holdups. New customs rules took effect after a transition period ended overnight.

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