Headlines: March 8, 2021
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Senate Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill on Saturday without a single Republican vote. The New York Times characterized the bill as, “an extraordinary increase in safety net spending in the largest antipoverty effort in a generation.” The bill, called the American Rescue Plan, was buffeted by relentless efforts at amendments before being passed and is different enough from the House version of the bill that it will need to be voted on again in the House. President Joe Biden, who championed the bill and plans to sign it, said at the White House, “I can say we’ve taken one more giant step forward in delivering on [the] promise, that help is on the way. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was so desperately needed, urgently needed.” Lawmakers are racing to meet the March 14th deadline when existing unemployment benefits expire. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin held the bill hostage until Senate leaders agreed to cut unemployment benefits to meet his demand. Aside from jobless benefits, people making $75,000 a year or less will begin receiving stimulus checks soon. Additionally, the bill includes funding for states, schools, food stamp programs, and pensions as well as a significant increase in child tax credits.
Democrats are now eyeing a second massive spending bill on improving American infrastructure. But considering the difficulty of passing the COVID relief bill and the narrow limits of power in the Senate, many are demanding an end to the Senate filibuster rules first. Senator Tina Smith, a Democrat, explained how she has evolved in her thinking from supporting the filibuster to advocating for its end. Writing on her Facebook page Senator Smith said, “the modern filibuster usually doesn’t include any debate at all. What happens is that a senator merely threatens to filibuster, then they go home to dinner. There’s no debate and not even any talking. And definitely not any legislating.” Even Senator Manchin says he’s open to doing away with the filibuster for certain bills.
President Biden on Monday signed an executive order directing his Education secretary Miguel Cardona to reverse the radical changes that Donald Trump made to Title IX rules including how college campuses investigate sexual assault. Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos changed the rules to protect suspected perpetrators of rape or sexual assault. President Biden signed a second executive order to establish a Gender Policy Council in the White House to mark International Women’s Day and a third one to promote voting rights as a gesture to the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when state troopers violently beat hundreds of civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the declaration of the global COVID-19 pandemic and to kick off the week Biden plans to visit a veterans center that is administering vaccines. On Thursday the President will deliver a prime time speech marking the first year of the pandemic and the half million (and rising) deaths. Meanwhile the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday released guidelines on the activities that those who have been vaccinated can engage in. In summary, the New York Times explained that, “fully vaccinated people may visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household so long as no one among the unvaccinated is at risk for severe disease if infected with the coronavirus.” They must still continue wearing masks in public however.
At least 60 million Americans have so far received either one or two vaccine doses. The rate of vaccinations last week jumped up 24% from the week before and a large jump in vaccine availability is expected by April. Dr. Anthony Fauci is even predicting that high school students may be able to get vaccines by the Fall. He warned against throwing caution to the wind just yet and slammed the decision by some Republican-led states to reopen their economies as though the pandemic was over. In Texas, the first state to announce it was reopening, a Mexican restaurant made news for getting threats of immigration enforcement after it decided to keep its mask policy in place. Anti-mask conservatives in Idaho engaged in a ritual burning of their masks, including children in the bizarre exercise. And in Boulder, Colorado, a mass gathering of young people, mostly unmasked, got out of control on Saturday after hundreds gathered in the streets and overturned a car provoking a police response. In international news, Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad and his wife have reportedly contracted Covid-19.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in a new interview with Axios Reporter Jonathan Swan admitted that the GOP remains under Trump’s control and that Trump could make the party bigger or could destroy it. Meanwhile the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the last Trump lawsuit challenging the 2020 election result– putting a legal nail in the coffin of the former President’s coup attempts.
Jury selection has begun in the trial of white police officer Derek Chauvin accused of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis. Chauvin faces charges of second degree murder and second degree manslaughter. On Sunday, thousands of people gathered outside the Hennepin County Government Center and marched silently as they carried a white wooden coffin to symbolize Floyd’s death and the massive anti-police brutality movement that it sparked across the nation. The trial is expected to be the biggest in Minneapolis history and 3,000 National Guardsmen have been activated to prepare for the inevitable public anger. In Rochester, New York, where the killers of another Black man named Daniel Prude went free, police were caught on video pepper spraying a Black woman in the face in view of her 3-year old child last month. Police accused her of shoplifting but found nothing. They then pursued and arrested her simply because she ran away.
A new study of youth detention centers in the U.S. finds shockingly high racial discrimination. The Annie E. Casey Foundation surveyed juvenile justice centers in 30 states around the U.S. during the course of the coronavirus pandemic and found that white youth were significantly more likely to be released from detention than Black youth. Additionally the study found that more people of color are being detained for longer sentences than they were before the pandemic hit.
In international news, the U.S. has proposed an interim power-sharing agreement between the Taliban in Afghanistan and the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The Biden administration’s proposal, in the form of a letter from State Secretary Anthony Blinken comes just months ahead of a May 1st deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from the longest official war in modern American history. Violence from the Taliban and other militant groups has increased over the past year. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government did not respond well to Blinken’s letter.