Headlines: March 10, 2021
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House Representatives on Wednesday voted to pass the Covid relief bill known as the American Rescue Plan by a vote of 220 to 211. The Senate had passed the $1.9 trillion bill on Saturday. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told his colleagues during the debate, “I expect zero Republicans to vote for this bill,” a good prediction given that no Senate Republicans voted for it. Seven weeks into his Presidency Joe Biden is expected to sign the landmark bill into law. A Pew Research poll found that a whopping 70% of Americans say they are in favor of it and only a third feel it is too big. One quarter say it doesn’t go far enough. The poll also found that a majority of Americans feel Biden made a good faith effort to try to include Republicans. A CNN poll released on the same day found similar public support for the American Rescue Plan with a majority backing various aspects of the bill that pour money into needed programs like schools, child tax credits and stimulus checks.
In other news the House on Tuesday passed a sweeping pro-union bill to reform labor laws called the Protecting the Right to Organize or PRO Act. It was the second time the House passed the bill, having first voted on it a year ago. But the bill languished in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now, as a critically important union vote at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama is taking place, the PRO bill enables, among other things, for contract workers to have the right to join unions. It would also undermine state-level so-called “Right to Work” laws that Republicans have used to try to decimate union dues. Five Republicans voted for the PRO act alongside yes votes from all but one Democrat. President Biden tweeted his support for the bill saying, “I believe every worker deserves a free and fair choice to join a union — and the PRO Act will bring us closer to that reality. I urge Congress to send it to my desk so we can summon a new wave of worker power and create an economy that works for everyone.”
In news from the coronavirus pandemic, which is now officially a year old, Biden says he plans to secure an additional 100 million doses of Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine. According to the New York Times, “officials said that they expected the doses to be delivered sometime in the second half of this year.” The good news is that scientists are optimistic about how well vaccines are working so far. One immunologist Jeremy Kamil told NBC News, “This virus is not invincible, and despite all these variants, the vaccines are working great.” He added, “There are certain variants that are more transmissible, and we have strong data on that, but the thing people should take away from the variant story is just: Don’t let your guard down.” He was referring to several states relaxing their quarantine rules before most Americans have been vaccinated. The slow roll out of the vaccines are partly a result of high demand with low supplies, as well as the complicated tiered system of delivery that many states are relying on in order to ensure equity in access. Still, Black and Latino residents lag behind whites in getting vaccinated. Now, the state of Alaska is trying a different approach: offering the vaccine to anyone 16 years or older. So far the state has the highest vaccination rate in the nation at 16%.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted 66-34 to confirm Marcia Fudge to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), making Fudge the first Black women in more than 40 years in that position. Fudge is a Democratic House Representative from Ohio and has promised to address race-based inequities in Housing. Meanwhile Lina Khan, a prominent critic of big tech companies is set to be nominated to the Federal Trade Commission by President Biden. She was part of the team that led a massive investigation into tech companies’ anti-trust violations for the House Judiciary Committee last year. In other news Mr. Biden’s nominees for various top Justice Department posts faced Senate hearings this week where they vowed to restore non-partisanship to a department devastated by the Trump Administration. And, a growing number of Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates are imploring Biden to replace two top Trump-appointed officials at the Social Security Administration who have an anti-Social Security agenda.
Republican Senators backing oil and gas interests are working hard to delay the appointment of Deb Haaland as head of the Interior Department. Steve Daines of Montana and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming have placed holds on Haaland’s confirmation process calling her a “radical” threat to Montana’s fossil fuel economy and “way of life.” Haaland, a House Representative from New Mexico would be the nation’s first Native American Interior Secretary and has come under fire for her earlier activism in opposing oil and gas projects. Separately, Congresswoman Katie Porter of California challenged an oil and gas representative at a House hearing yesterday when he claimed that his industry does not get special tax preferences.
The trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd continues its jury selection process in Minneapolis as attorneys grilled prospective jurors about their opinions. AP reports that one woman was dismissed from serving after, “she didn’t understand why Chauvin didn’t get up when Floyd — in a widely seen bystander video that showed Chauvin with his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck — kept saying he couldn’t breathe.” She told attorneys, “That’s not fair because we are humans, you know?” Another juror said she wasn’t sure she could be impartial. Another high-profile trial—of white teenager Kyle Rittenhouse for the shooting deaths of Black Lives Matter activists—has been postponed 7 months.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved an extension for 2,200 National Guard troops to remain in Washington D.C. through late May. Capitol Police requested the extension ahead of a Friday deadline for troops to leave. The high security remains in place due to on-going threats facing the capital after the January 6th pro-Trump riot. Meanwhile former President Trump is apparently engaged in a tussle with the GOP over the reins of party fundraising. He wants donations to go to his own super PAC and not the traditional groups that finance Republican campaigns. Symbolizing the dangers of trying to support Trump while criticizing, Senate minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces a bi-partisan backlash for trying to have it both ways. A new poll found that Democrats and Republicans uniformly dislike McConnell and his unpopularity is now at 57%.