Path Cleared For Relief Plan … Vote-a-Rama … What Goes Around Comes Around … The Lucy Theory Of Politics … America Is Back … Rebuilding … Rolling Back … Who Got The Green Light? … Who Is Changing Course? … Who Is Out For Delivery? … Violence Embracing Freshman Removed From Committees … Smile For The Day: Pandas … and other news of the week.
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IN THE SENATE The Senate passed a budget resolution very early Friday morning, a key step for the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal without any Republican votes. The 51-50 vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie, came after an all-night marathon “vote-a-rama.” The “vote-a-rama” — a political tradition (AKA ‘stunt’) in which the minority party attempts to put political pressure on the majority for trying to pass controversial legislation, and can often last into the early hours of the morning — included 41 votes with dozens of amendments considered. Harris cast her first tie-breaking votes as vice president, allowing the resolution to finally pass shortly before 6 a.m. with support from all 50 Democratic senators.
Passing a budget resolution is part of a process known as reconciliation, which allows legislation to pass in the Senate with only a simple majority instead of the typical 60-vote threshold, meaning Democrats would be able to green-light it without any Republican votes. But Republicans forced Democrats to go on the record with a series of votes on a slew of amendments in the politically painful “vote-a-rama.”
JUST A REMINDER: In 2017, Republicans used budget reconciliation to pass a tax cut that cost nearly $2 trillion, and which primarily benefited higher income Americans and businesses. Democrats used the “vote-a-rama” process during the debate over that legislation in an unsuccessful attempt to bog down the bill with amendments.
IN THE HOUSE … The House of Representatives voted 219-209 to approve the budget plan, which the Senate had already passed early Friday morning, beginning the process of turning Biden’s stimulus proposal into legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday she aims to pass Biden’s stimulus plan within two weeks. The stimulus package would include checks up to $1,400 for low- and moderate-income families, extended jobless benefits, and provide $160 billion to strengthen the public health response to the pandemic, improving the vaccine distribution and increased testing, among other measures.
Top Democrats in both chambers say they are moving with an increased sense of urgency, as the economic recovery from the pandemic continues to show signs of stalling. Meanwhile GOP lawmakers have called for slowing down the relief effort and substantially scaling back the $1.9 trillion effort, which conservatives have derided as unnecessarily increasing the federal deficit.”
A new jobs report out Friday provided the latest glimpse of the faltering economy, which added just 49,000 jobs in January, an anemic amount of growth, coming a month after the labor market shed jobs. The U.S. has only recovered about half of the 22 million jobs it lost between February and April.
The Lucy Theory Of Politics … Or Why Dems Will Go It Alone
NYT “To understand the back and forth over President Biden’s coronavirus relief bill, it helps to look back at a little history.
In Bill Clinton’s first weeks as president, he pushed for legislation meant to reduce the deficit, bring down interest rates and spark the economy. It received no votes from Republicans in the House or the Senate and passed only when Vice President Al Gore broke a 50-50 Senate tie.
In Barack Obama’s first weeks as president, he pushed for legislation to halt the financial crisis and revive the economy. It received no votes from House Republicans and only three from Senate Republicans, one of whom (Arlen Specter) soon switched parties.
In Biden’s first weeks … he received an unenthusiastic reaction to a coronavirus proposal from Senate Republicans. WHY GO IT ALONE? The answer has a lot to do with history: For decades, congressional Republicans have opposed — almost unanimously — any top priority of an incoming Democratic president. Biden and his aides believe they will be playing Charlie Brown to a Republican Lucy if they imagine this time will be different.”
WaPo ” … during his first visit to the State Department this week as president, Biden said his administration was “rebuilding the muscle of democratic alliances that have atrophied over the past few years and neglect, and I would argue, abuse.” He indicated several ways he was reversing or repairing actions made by Trump … “I made it clear to President Putin … that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens are over,” Biden said. “We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people.” He spoke of rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and announced a climate summit with world leaders to be hosted by the United States on Earth Day. He also announced raising the cap on refugee resettlements in the U.S. to 125,000 a year after Trump sliced it to just 15,000, saying “it’s going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that’s precisely what we’re going to do.” He also discussed the return of daily White House news briefings, describing a very different view of the role of the press than Trump had. “We believe a free press isn’t adversary,” Biden said. “Rather, it’s essential, a free press is essential to the health of a democracy.”
theSkimm “President Joe Biden pulled out the red pen. For what? … Immigration reform. Wednesday, Biden signed three executive orders – taking steps to roll back former President Trump’s immigration policies. As part of his campaign promises, these EOs add to the series of actions on immigration Biden has put in motion since Day 1. Here’s what you need to know:
Family reunification…The Biden admin is creating a task force to help reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border. Reminder: Over 5,500 migrant children were taken from their parents under the Trump admin’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy. About 1,000 of them have still not been reunited with their families. This new task force will work to fix that and help prevent it from ever happening again. But it faces an uphill battle: many parents have been deported without their kids, and there is no record of where they’ve gone.
Seeking asylum…Biden has tasked his admin to review asylum protocols, including former President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. It required asylum seekers (more than 60,000) to stay in Mexico while their claims went through the courts, limiting their access to legal counsel. A full review will help decide whether to end or revise the program. And Biden has asked the Supreme Court to cancel hearings on the topic in the meantime. The admin will also revive an Obama-era program that allowed at-risk children to join family members in the US.
Policy review…Biden wants gov agencies to review several of the Trump admin’s immigration policies. Including the “public charge rule” which allowed the US gov to deny green cards to immigrants who relied on (or were likely to rely on) housing assistance, food assistance or Medicaid, among other programs.
What people are saying?
During his term, President Trump enacted over 400 policies on immigration – an issue that was at the forefront of his first campaign. And while Biden’s promised to roll them back, he’s likely to face pushback from Republicans. Case in point: A fed judge already halted Biden’s freeze on some deportations. So, the Biden admin’s urging patience, adding that it “will take time and require a full-governance approach.” The Biden admin has put immigration at the top of its list in the hopes of creating real reform. But such a feat will take time – a resource many can’t afford to lose.”
“An apparent bipartisan majority of the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday endorsed the idea of new laws to address domestic terrorism in the wake of last month’s riot at the U.S. Capitol, as experts warned such internal threats would plague the country for decades to come.” (Punchbowl)
theSkimm This week, the Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas and Pete Buttigieg to President Biden’s Cabinet. Mayorkas is the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the Dept. of Homeland Security. He’ll be tasked with rolling back Trump-era immigration policies (like the ones mentioned above), and handling the response to the pandemic and national security threats. Meanwhile, Buttigieg will serve as the nation’s transportation sec. He’s the first openly gay Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate in US history. And is expected to hit the ground running on much-needed infrastructure updates (think: repairs for roads and bridges).
…Oh, and Antony Blinken got a new job too. He got approval to serve as the 71st secretary of state. He’ll be tasked with putting President Biden’s plans (think: on climate change and refugee resettlement) into action.”
theSkimm “Yesterday, it dropped a Trump-era discrimination lawsuit against Yale University. Last year, the DOJ sued the Ivy League school after a two-year investigation found alleged discrimination in its admissions process. The lawsuit said the school violated federal civil rights law by admitting more Black and Latino applicants than white or Asian American applicants with similar academic stats. But “in light of all available facts, circumstances, and legal developments” the DOJ’s decided to drop the suit. Yale applauded the move. And an Asian American nonprofit did too, saying the lawsuit had pinned minorities against each other.
Not the only Ivy: In November, a federal appeals court also threw out a similar lawsuit against Harvard University, saying it doesn’t discriminate in its admissions process.
“… The Amazon founder said he’ll be stepping down as CEO. And will add to his cart the title of executive chairman of the board later this year. For nearly 30 years, Bezos has run Amazon, scaling it to the online retail giant it is today. Now, he hopes to take Amazon to new heights with “new products and early initiatives” and will focus on reaching for Blue (Origin) skies. His replacement, Andy Jassy, will get to upgrade his Prime membership – from cloud exec to CEO.
Throughout former President Trump’s term, most Republican lawmakers stood by him – come hell or high water. They supported his baseless claims of election fraud and voted to block the certification of the election results. After Trump was impeached in the House for “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the deadly Capitol siege, nearly all 50 Republican senators voted against holding an impeachment trial. But cracks in the GOP are starting to show. Tens of thousands of registered Republicans have reportedly switched parties. And dozens of former officials from the Bush admin are reportedly saying ‘we’re done.’ And someone else seems to be deepening those cracks.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). The newly elected representative from Georgia’s 14th Congressional District has been getting a lot of attention – and not for the right reasons. Greene is a known QAnon supporter (a far-right conspiracy theory group) and believes Trump won the election. She also has a history of racist, inflammatory, and false statements. She’s suggested Muslims don’t belong in the government. And that the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings were staged – even harassing one of the survivors. She’s claimed that the deadly 2018 California wildfires were started by space lasers controlled by a Jewish banking family. And recently, it’s come out that she has reportedly ‘liked’ several social media posts calling for FBI agents and prominent Dems to be killed.
That’s a lot.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) condemned House Republican leaders for sweeping Greene’s actions under the rug and, instead, appointing her to the House Education and Budget Committees.
Violence Embracing Freshman Removed From Committees
NYMag “After the House Republican Conference refused to sanction their violence-embracing freshman colleague Marjorie Taylor Greene, House Democrats on Thursday removed her from her two committee assignments. The resolution passed by a 230-199 margin, with 11 Republicans splitting with the majority of their colleagues to join all the Democrats in supporting the measure. This means Greene will not join the House Budget Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee as originally planned.
Her sorta-kinda mea culpa echoed what she reportedly said at a closed House Republican Conference session last night, when she earned a standing ovation from many of the attendees, as well as their apparent assent for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to oppose any attempt to remove her committee assignments.
Her refusal to retract or apologize for incitement to violence against Democrats didn’t go over well with the majority in the House, as the Washington Post reported:
“All in all, the defense of Greene by the vast majority of her Republican peers means she has made the House GOP protected turf for the most dangerous and exotic of beasts. But she’ll still bear the marks of condemnation in the chamber as a whole.”
This Counts As An Unconventional View Within The GOP
“Politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude. The party can purge Trump skeptics. But I’d like to convince you that not only is that civic cancer for the nation, it’s just terrible for our party.”
– Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), responding to reports that the Nebraska Republican Party State Central Committee was considering censuring him for not backing Trump’s coup efforts.
Axios “The commission that U.S. home sellers typically pay to real estate agents is under fire, with the real estate industry accused of antitrust violations and extracting exorbitant fees. Why it matters: Some legal experts predict that an antitrust lawsuit over brokers’ fees will reach the Supreme Court — and say the many challenges to the current system could upend the market and make it cheaper to sell a home. The big picture: The challengers want “the uncoupling of [agent] commissions, so that both buyers and sellers negotiate and pay their own broker compensation,” per the Consumer Federation of America. The bottom line: Real estate agent fees are a $100 billion-a-year business.
450,000 Dead From Covid – And These Fools Are Rolling Back Mask Orders
Daily Beast “As the COVID-19 variants prompt the CDC to study whether we should all be double-masking, three states are demonstrating triple insanity. North Dakota has ceased to require wearing any masks at all. Meanwhile, the Republican-dominated Wisconsin Assembly voted on Thursday to repeal the mask mandate imposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers (following a vote by the State Senate). And at least two counties in Kansas have voted to opt out of that state’s mask order. This all comes as health officials say masks are more important than ever before in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and the chances of getting infected by more contagious and thus more lethal variants.
(Of Particular Interest…) IN WISCONSIN … Context: 5,992 people have died from the virus in Wisconsin to date, per state data. Now, coronavirus variants pose fresh risks. The previous mandate remained in effect since August. DEFYING SCIENCE AND THE PEOPLE Polls show that more than 70% of people in Wisconsin support a mask mandate.”
Axios “Gov. Tony Evers (D) on Thursday issued a new statewide mask mandate almost immediately after the state Legislature voted to repeal his previous order. Why it matters: Evers’ attempts to combat COVID-19 have faced pushback from Republicans since early in the pandemic BASED ON A PROCESS ARGUMENT as in ‘Evers overstepped his authority by extending the mask mandate without legislative approval.’ The governor says that the unusual circumstances posed by the pandemic give him the authority to issue such orders. Even with a new order, the Legislature could again vote to repeal the mask requirement.
… More that 449,000 people have died in the United States from the virus, with more than 26.4 million reported infections.
Axios “New coronavirus infections slowed by nearly 16% over the past week, continuing a trend of rapid improvement.”
Why it matters: The U.S. still has a ton of coronavirus, and there’s still the potential for dark days ahead. But this is progress, and the improvement is significant. If this trend keeps going, the country will be in a far better and safer position as vaccines continue to roll out.
Nationwide, the U.S. is averaging about 139,000 new cases per day — a 16% improvement over last week, which was a 16% improvement over the week before. The number of new hospitalizations was also down last week, by just over 26%. And deaths fell by about 6%, to an average of 3,097 deaths per day.
… Despite these signs of hope, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, urged Americans to stay away from large Super Bowl parties. … If you’re still planning a big football bash, this ain’t the year for it, chief. At the urging of every official and public health expert who spoke to our Health desk, please avoid turning Super Bowl Sunday into Super Spreader Sunday. (WaPo)
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead House impeachment manager, sent a letter to former President Trump “requesting that he provide testimony under oath, either before or during the Senate impeachment trial, about his conduct on January 6.” Raskin writes, “Two days ago, you filed an Answer in which you denied many factual allegations set forth in the article of impeachment. You have thus attempted to put critical facts at issue notwithstanding the clear and overwhelming evidence of your constitutional offense. … If you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021.”
Former president Donald Trump is rejecting a request for his testimony at the Senate impeachment trial that begins next week.
Axios “The New York Times added nearly 5 million digital-only subscribers in the past four years, helping to firmly transition its business from a 170-year-old newspaper company to a modern digital behemoth. Why it matters: No other U.S. news publisher comes close to the Times’ 6.7 million digital-only subscribers. The WashPost has 3 million digital subs, and The Wall Street Journal has 2.46 million.”
Stephen Wilkes was in a crane for 15 hours on Inauguration Day, from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., to capture this “Day to Night” photo for National Geographic.
Wilkes shot 1,500 frames and used about 50 individual images for the final image. As National Geographic’s Sydney Combs put it: “For the past 12 years, Wilkes has perfected the art of taking the same picture over and over again — except no two images are ever the same.”
Wilkes believes he caught President Trump leaving Washington on Marine One on the right-hand, cloudy side of the frame. (Check out the link to National Geographic, you can actually see the helicopter!)