Headlines: March 4, 2021
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The U.S. Senate plans to begin voting on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that was passed in the House. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “The Senate is going to move forward with the bill. No matter how long it takes, the Senate is going to stay in session to finish the bill this week.” Senate Republicans are using every procedural trick in the book to delay the vote in spite of the fact that “76 percent of voters and 60 percent of Republicans support the bill.” Given how long it took for Congress to debate the large and complex bill, some are now questioning whether it includes too much or too little. Progressives are asking for stimulus checks to continue being sent until the pandemic is officially over. Incidentally a new study based in Stockton, California, that has implications for such an idea found that the local government gave all residents $500 a year without strings attached to try to fight poverty. The “universal basic income” experiment found that it had a huge impact on people’s lives including making it twice as likely for the unemployed to get jobs. Meanwhile, jobless claims rose once more as per the latest Labor Department figures. A total of 745,000 people filed for new unemployment benefits last week, up 9,000 from the week before. And productivity fell by 4.2%, a smaller drop than a month ago.
March 4th at the Capitol was a day that some Trump-supporting QAnon groups believed would be the day that their leader would take power once more. Government intelligence pointed to potential attack being plotted by a militia group, resulting in Capitol police being placed on high alert on Thursday, just barely 2 months after the January 6th riot. Representative Tim Ryan, chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Capitol Police said in a statement, “It is heartbreaking that the United States Capitol continues to be a target — not by foreign adversaries — but by our fellow Americans.” While the Senate continued its session debating the Covid relief bill, the House cancelled its session. Meanwhile the D.C. Capitol police have requested that National Guardsmen remain for another 2 months. Interestingly Donald Trump’s hotel in D.C. hiked up the prices for hotel rooms on March 4th.
The House on Wednesday passed the For the People Act, a landmark bill to protect voting rights of minorities that are under attack by Republican-dominated state legislatures around the nation. The New York Times explained that, “If the bill were to become law, states would be required to automatically register eligible voters, hold at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections and provide drop boxes for absentee ballots like the ones Mr. Trump falsely claimed led to fraud. It would make it far easier to vote by mail and far harder to purge voters from the rolls.” Not a single House Republican voted for the bill as Democrats grappled with the fact that in the Senate they would have to convince at least 10 Republicans to join them for a filibuster-proof vote. Many are calling for the Senate to do away with filibuster rules in order to make any headway on a Democratic Party agenda given the refusal of nearly all Republicans to vote for anything under a Democratic President.
The House also passed a landmark police reform bill on Wednesday called The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The bill is modest and would ban police chokeholds, addresses racial profiling, and has the support of President Biden. Only one Republican voted for it and apparently did so accidentally. Meanwhile Minnesota is preparing right now for the trial of Derek Chauvin accused of killing George Floyd. The city has poured resources into security measures including barricades and barbed wire, and a plan to deploy up to 2,000 National Guards and more than a thousand police officers to quell the public anger that they appear to be expecting even before the trial.
President Joe Biden’s approval ratings show that he now commands only 51% support from the American public, down a few percentage points from when he first entered the White House. When judged by his response to the pandemic, Biden earns higher support, at 62%. Congressional approval is far lower. Biden’s cabinet appointees continue to face opposition from Republican Senators. Those opposing Health Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra for example, were found to have accepted millions of dollars from major pharmaceutical companies. Biden’s Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland is also facing Republican-led delays to his confirmation.
The Transportation Department’s Inspector General on Wednesday released a report into Trump’s Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who was found to have repeatedly used her office to benefit her family and connections. But Trump’s Justice Department had flatly refused to investigate her. Chao is married to Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell. On Thursday The Intercept broke the story that McConnell is working with GOP lawmakers in his home state of Kentucky to arrange for his exit from the Senate before his term ends. McConnell has reportedly put together a list of successors that he wants the Kentucky state legislature to pick from in replacing him were he to step down. McConnell’s resignation would be a major political earthquake.
In news from the pandemic, at least 5 states are rolling back safety measures such as mask mandates. The trend began with Texas when Gov. Greg Abbott declared he was canceling every single measure intended to protect Texans, a move that President Biden likened to “Neanderthal thinking,” and that Dr. Anthony Fauci said was “ill-advised.” Abbott’s medical advisers say he did not consult them before deciding to end his state’s precautions. Meanwhile in California, the nation’s most populous state, authorities say they will reserve 40% of all Covid-19 vaccines for “disadvantaged” areas, which will apparently speed up re-openings. In Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing accusations of favoritism after a very wealthy community in Key Largo was given doses for 1,200 residents as early as January. A month later DeSantis’ reelection campaign received a massive $250,000 contribution from one of Key Largo’s residents. And, as schools start to reopen around the nation, Asian American children are reportedly returning in far fewer numbers, in part over fears of racist attacks.
Internationally, India’s news Covid vaccine has finally been confirmed to have high efficacy and safety, after the interim trial’s results were released. The Covaxin shot as it’s called, was developed by Bharat Biotech and showed an initial efficacy rate of 81%. The results have yet to be peer reviewed however, and India faced criticism over distributing the vaccine before it was shown to be safe as well as over some ethical testing issues. The European Union has begun a formal review process for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine which was found to have a 91% efficacy rate in initial testing. The World Health Organization is warning that infection rates across Europe are rising once more after a 6-week period of decline. And, a global study found that the vast majority of Covid-19 related deaths have occurred in nations with high levels of obesity. The Washington Post explained that, “Among the nations with overweight populations above the 50 percent threshold were also those with some of the largest proportions of coronavirus deaths — including countries such as Britain, Italy and the United States.”
And finally, in Myanmar, Wednesday was the bloodiest day on record since a military takeover of the nation. Nearly 40 people were killed largely by government forces. According to Reuters, so far, “At least 54 people had been killed in total …More than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.” Still, unbowed by the violence, protests continued in full force on Thursday. After Facebook banned members of the Myanmar military, soldiers have now apparently taken to TikTok to issue violent threats against protesters.