Happy Friday! It’s February 5, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 641 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,369 days away. Thanks for waking up to politics!
Senate clears way for Biden’s relief package
The Senate voted early this morning to approve a budget resolution that will allow Democrats to fast-track President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief package and pass it without Republican support.
The resolution was passed after an all-night “vote-a-rama” in which senators voted on dozens of proposed amendments to the measure. At about 5:30 a.m., Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie to seal the resolution’s passage, along party lines. It was her first tie-breaking vote as vice president.
In total, senators voted on 40 amendments throughout the drawn-out process, many of them Republican attempts to put Democrats on the record on controversial issues. Some passed with bipartisan support, including an amendment by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) aimed at overturning President Biden’s executive order blocking the Keystone XL pipeline (52-48) and another by Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) aimed at ensuring undocumented immigrants do not receive stimulus checks (58-42).
Other amendments failed to receive Democratic support and were defeated, such as a provision by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) to prohibit packing the Supreme Court and another by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) to block funding for schools that do not reopen for in-person learning after teachers have been vaccinated. Both were rejected in 50-50 votes, along party lines.
Because the budget resolution is merely a blueprint to kickstart the budget process, the amendments are all non-binding and lack the force of law, making the votes nothing more than political symbols.
The Senate-passed resolution now goes to the House, which could approve it as early as tonight. Lawmakers will then begin work marking up Biden’s proposed stimulus package, which currently carries a price tag of $1.9 trillion. The proposed legislation would include $1,4000 direct checks for many Americans, a boost in emergency unemployment benefits to $400 a week, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, $20 billion in funds for a national vaccination program, among other measures.
While Biden met earlier this week with Senate Republicans offering a slimmed-down proposal, the resolution passed this morning will allow Democrats to pass Biden’s package without any GOP support by triggering the reconciliation process, which is immune to Senate filibusters. However, the proposal may still undergo some changes: Biden indicated Wednesday in a call with House Democrats that he would open to limiting the recipients of the direct checks.
“We can better target the number — I’m OK with that,” he said, according to the New York Times. But he refused to budge on how large the checks would be: “We can’t walk away from an additional $1,400 in direct checks, because people need it,” the president said. “I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to people.”
As part of the “vote-a-rama,” the Senate voted 99-1 in favor of an amendment proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) that would ensure “upper-income taxpayers” are not eligible for the stimulus checks. Although the measure did not specify an income cutoff, the Washington Post reported that Democrats are considering a plan that would give the full $1,400 payments to individuals with incomes up to $50,000 and $2,800 payments to married couples earning up to $100,000. (As with previous rounds of stimulus checks, people who earn slightly above those levels would receive partial payments.)
Biden’s original plan called for individuals earning up to $75,000 and married couples earning up to $150,000 to receive $1,400 and $2,800 payments, respectively.
Democratic leaders are hoping to pass the relief legislation by March 14, when the current round of enhanced unemployment benefits expire, a deadline that would require quick work and complete party unity behind the president’s proposal.
IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: Former President Donald Trump rejected a request from House Democrats on Thursday for him to testify in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial. “The use of our Constitution to bring a purported impeachment proceeding is much too serious to play these games,” Trump’s attorney David Schoen wrote in response to the letter from Rep. Jamie Raskin (R-MD), the lead House impeachment manager.
- Raskin responded that Trump’s “immediate refusal to testify speaks volumes and plainly establishes an adverse inference supporting his guilt.”
INSIDE CONGRESS: The House voted Thursday to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) of her committee assignments, condemning the first-term lawmaker for her past support of QAnon and other baseless conspiracy theories, as well as social media posts that promoted violence against Democratic politicians and anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiments. The vote was 230-199, with 11 Republicans crossing party lines to support the measure.
- Before the vote, Greene sought to distance herself from the comments, saying they “are words of the past and these things do not represent me, they do not represent my district, and they do not represent my values.” Greene did not apologize for her past rhetoric, although she did affirm that 9/11 “absolutely happened” and the Parkland school shooting was “absolutely real” — two events that she had cast doubt on in the past.”
CORONAVIRUS: New COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all dropped significantly in the United States this week, according to The Atlantic’s COVID-19 Tracking Project. The change in trendlines comes as another vaccine is on the way: Johnson & Johnson applied Thursday for emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for their coronavirus vaccine candidate.
- Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson regimen includes only one shot — and it does not need to be kept as cool, making the logistics of distributing it much easier. The vaccine, which was 72% effective at preventing moderate and severe COVID-19 cases in a U.S. trial, is on track to be available in March.
Two well-reported stories returning to controversies the political world has moved on from: “How Andrew Gillum’s Marriage Survived a Night of Scandal” GQ... “How the Iowa Caucus Results Fell Apart” BuzzFeed
A story on 2022: “Republicans worry their big tent will mean big problems in 2022 elections” Washington Post
Two stories on a top 2024 contender: “The Knives Come Out for Josh Hawley” The Atlantic... “Hawley paves 2024 path” Politico
Today I learned: In the current Congress, “94 senators belong to the party that won their state’s presidential contest in November—a record-high level of party allegiance for at least 54 years, an analysis of data gathered by the Pew Research Center shows.” Wall Street Journal
President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:15 a.m. At 9:45 a.m., he will meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other House Democratic leaders and committee chairs on the coronavirus relief package.
- At 11:45 a.m., he will deliver remarks on the state of the economy and his stimulus proposal. Biden will then depart Washington, D.C., for Wilmington, Delaware, where he will spend the weekend.
Vice President Kamala Harris will join President Biden for the President’s Daily Brief, the meeting with House Democrats, and his remarks on the economy.
- At 3 p.m., Vice President Harris and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen will hold a virtual roundtable on the president’s coronavirus relief proposal with participants from local Black Chambers of Commerce across the country.
Members of the White House COVID-19 response team will hold a press briefing at 11 a.m. to “provide public health and operational updates” and an “overview of the Defense Production Act.”
- The briefers will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president; Dr. Rochelle Wolensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Andy Slavitt, a senior advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team; and Tim Manning, the White House COVID-19 Response Team supply coordinator.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and White House Council of Economic Advisers member Jared Bernstein will hold a press briefing at 1 p.m.
The Senate is not in session.
The House will convene at 9 a.m. The chamber will hold one hour of debate on H.R. 447, the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, considering 26 amendments before voting on the final measure.
- The House may also consider S.Con.Res. 5, the budget resolution that clears the way for Democrats to fast-track their coronavirus relief package and allow it to avoid the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate.
- Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who was stripped of her committee assignments Thursday, will hold a press conference at 11 a.m.
The Supreme Court is not in session.