Trump pardons a cast of controversial characters | First Thing | US news

Good morning.

Donald Trump has approved a wave of pre-Christmas pardons, including disgraced Republican lawmakers, contractors convicted of a massacre in Iraq, and a former campaign aide who pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials in the Russia investigation. The move drew strong criticism from Democrats, accusing him of offering clemency to “corrupt” politicians, whose profiles you can read here.

The decision was a mark of Trump’s shamelessness, as he ordered executions for those on death row while pardoning war criminals, Guardian US’s Washington bureau chief, David Smith, writes. As we enter the final weeks of his presidency, the US is bracing for a potentially dramatic period as Trump clings to power and tries to leave his mark. From contesting Congress’s ratification of Biden’s victory, to preparations for his post-presidential career, experts ask what to expect from the final throes of Trump.

Trump might not sign Congress’s $900bn aid package

Speaking in a video posted to Twitter, Trump described the bill as a ‘disgrace’

Speaking in a video posted to Twitter, Trump described the bill as a ‘disgrace’. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Trump hinted on Tuesday that he may not sign the bipartisan $900bn coronavirus aid package passed by Congress on Monday night, after months of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats. In a video statement, the lame duck president said the bill gave too much money in foreign aid, cultural landmarks and environmental efforts, and that the $600 payment for most Americans was “ridiculously low”. He failed to mention that it was Republican lawmakers who insisted on capping the payments, and his calls led to somewhat tongue-in-cheek support from top Democrats.

However, the bill has enough support across Congress so that it should be able to pass with or without the president’s veto. Trump also seemed to acknowledge that the next administration might not be his own. Instructing Congress to “send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package”, he added that “maybe that administration will be me”.

  • What’s included in the bill? From funding for the arts to support for the Dalai Lama, Lauren Gambino explains what the bill offers, to save you reading the whopping 5,593-page document yourself.

  • Joe Biden will not inherit Trump’s Twitter followers when he takes over the official accounts of the president and the White House, breaking away from the traditions of a social media handover. Biden’s digital director announced on Twitter that “the Trump admin absorbed all of President Obama’s Twitter followers … the Biden administration will have to start from zero.”

The Department of Justice is suing Walmart over the opioid crisis

Until 2018, Walmart was a wholesale distributor of controlled substances for its own pharmacies

Until 2018, Walmart was a wholesale distributor of controlled substances for its own pharmacies. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Walmart on Tuesday, accusing the retail giant of fuelling America’s opioid crisis by filling out “thousands of invalid prescriptions” for painkillers. The complaint said Walmart, which runs more than 5,000 pharmacies around the country, was uniquely well positioned to prevent the illegal diversion of opioids” but “abdicated these responsibilities” for years. The firm said the lawsuit was “riddled with factual inaccuracies”.

  • The Hollywood studio behind the James Bond films is up for sale with an asking price of more than $5bn. MGM owns about 4,000 film titles and 17,000 hours of TV programming, from Gone With the Wind to TV hits such as The Handmaid’s Tale.

In other news …

Alex Padilla

Alex Padilla is a long-time political ally of the California governor, Gavin Newsom. Photograph: Eric Risberg/AP
  • California’s secretary of state will fill Kamala Harris’s seat in the senate. Alex Padilla, the child of Mexican immigrants, will be the state’s first Latino senator, despite Latinos making up almost 40% of the population.

  • Elon Musk has revealed that he tried to sell Tesla to Apple, but that the firm’s Tim Cook refused to take the meeting. His comments followed reports on Tuesday that Apple is working to build an electric car with advanced battery technology, but Musk was skeptical about how that would work.

  • Three French police officers have been shot dead and a fourth wounded while responding to a domestic violence incident, the interior ministry has said. A 48-year-old man shot the officers on Tuesday night after the gendarmes tried to rescue a woman who had taken refuge in a house.

Stat of the day: 2020 life expectancy might drop by three years due to Covid

In 2019, life expectancy rose to 78.8 years, a 0.1 increase from the year before, thought to be due to a decrease in the death rates for heart disease and cancer. But Robert Anderson of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 2020’s coronavirus pandemic could lead to a drop in life expectancy by as much as three full years.

Don’t miss this: a Guatemalan father and daughter on their attempts to come to the US

This harrowing piece follows a Guatemalan father and daughter on their journey to the US border, as they travelled 2,000 miles and waited two months in a makeshift shelter, only to find that their case under the Trump administration’s migrant protection protocols was hopeless. With just 1% of applicants successful, out of tens of thousands of families, their story is not unique.

Last thing: China in clean-plate crackdown

The policy is inspired by Xi Jinping’s ‘operation empty plate’

The policy is inspired by Xi Jinping’s ‘operation empty plate’, which aims to reduce food waste. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

China is to introduce fines for people who leave food on their plates in restaurants and for restaurateurs deemed to be causing “obvious waste”, as part of draft legislation on food waste in the country. Broadcasters may also be fined for appearing to promote food waste, including overeating.

And one final “last thing”: I’d like to wish you all a wonderful holiday and a very merry Christmas to those who celebrate it. Thanks for reading along with me over these turbulent weeks. I’ll be back with more news next week.

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