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Wake Up To Politics - May 7, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: The voting wars
Wake Up To Politics - May 7, 2021

Good morning! It’s Friday, May 7, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 550 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,278 days away.

Florida, Texas join the voting wars

Republican legislators in at least 47 states have proposed hundreds of new bills seeking to restrict voting access since former President Donald Trump began promoting his false claims of voter fraud in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Here are the latest fronts in “the voting wars”:

Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed SB 90 into law on Thursday, placing new restrictions on voting by mail and the use of drop boxes to vote in the state. According to NBC News, changes put in place by the law include “limits on where drop boxes could be placed, restrictions on who can drop off a voter's ballot, a mandate that drop boxes be staffed while open, new powers for partisan poll watchers as well as a requirement that voters must request to vote-by-mail more frequently.”

DeSantis, who signed the bill during a live interview on “Fox and Friends” without other news outlets, said that the new law protects the “integrity and transparency” of Florida elections and will prevent voter fraud. But one critic of the law — Patricia Brigham, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida — assailed it as “undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American,” charging that it would have a “deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a voting bill into law live on Fox News. 

Texas. The state House in Texas held an all-night session to debate a Republican voting bill, SB 7, before voting at around 3 a.m. this morning to pass it along party lines. After votes on a flurry of Democratic-backed amendments, the bill was significantly pared down throughout the night from a version passed by the state Senate. According to the Texas Tribune, some of its most restrictive provisions were stripped out, including limits on early voting, a ban on drive-through voting, and a plan to “redistribute polling places under a formula that could move sites away from areas with more Hispanic and Black residents.”

Without those provisions, the bill most notably “would bar public officials from sending out mail-in ballot applications without prior requests for them and implement strict rules on the number of voting machines at polling places in major cities,” according to The Hill. The revised bill will have to be approved by the state Senate and then signed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), who has already indicated his support.

Arizona. While Texas and Florida — and other states, such as Georgia and Iowa — are focusing on revamping their voting laws going forward, Republicans in Arizona are still relitigating the results from 2020. The GOP-controlled state Senate has launched a full hand recount and audit of the ballots cast last year in the state’s largest county, Maricopa. President Joe Biden won the county by about 45,000 votes, an advantage that boosted him (and a Democratic Senate candidate) to victory in the former Republican stronghold.

The state Senate issued a subpoena to take possession of the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County and nearly 400 election machines used last November; the audit, which was initiated over the objections of the county’s GOP-led Board of Supervisors, is being conducted by a group of private companies led by a CEO who has promoted Trump’s false claims about the 2020 results.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said this week that observers from her office had witnessed a number of problems during the recount, while the federal Justice Department penned a letter on Wednesday to the state Senate president suggesting that the audit violated a federal law requiring ballots be securely held by election officials for 22 months after an election. “Arizona has the authority to conduct this audit without interference from the Feds!” the Twitter account for the audit wrote in response.

Ballots being counted in the Maricopa County election audit. (Courtney Pedroza/Washington Post)

Congress. Meanwhile, in Washington, it is Democrats who are seeking to revamp the nation’s voting laws, as the party seeks to advance H.R. 1, a sweeping measure that would make Election Day a federal holiday and require states to expand mail-in voting, offer two weeks of early voting, authorize pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and mandate automatic, online, and same-day voter registration. In a reverse of the fights over voting access in most states, Democrats insist that they are needed reforms while Republicans allege that it is a partisan makeover of the election system.

As lawmakers grapple over that bill, and its Senate counterpart S. 1, new fights have also cropped up in the Capitol over Trump’s continued efforts to falsely paint the 2020 election as fraudulent. House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) took Trump to task for his rhetoric, which she referred to as “the big lie” in a tweet earlier this week. Cheney is now expected to be ousted from her leadership position next week and replaced by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who spent Thursday reinforcing Trump’s claims in a pair of interviews with far-right outlets.

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Policy Roundup: Health Care

The week’s top health care headlines, contributed by Ellen Burstein.

Pfizer and BioNTech applied for full approval of their COVID-19 vaccine this morning. The drugmakers are the first to request full FDA approval of a coronavirus shot; the two companies asked for full approval of the vaccine for people ages 16 and older, as well as for an expansion of emergency use of the shots for 12- to 15-year-olds. Emergency approval is expected to be granted for adolescents by early next week; a phase 3 clinical trial showed that the vaccine was well-tolerated and had a 100 percent efficacy rate in the demographic. Pfizer is on track to apply for emergency authorization for 2- to 11-year-olds by September, the company said.  

President Biden backed a World Trade Organization proposal to waive intellectual property rights on the coronavirus vaccines. Supporters argue that the move would increase access to the vaccine among countries that have not cut deals with pharmaceutical companies. The proposal is steadfastly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, which argues that intellectual property rights are necessary to promote innovation. Opponents also say the bill will not solve the problem of accessing the materials for and physically manufacturing the vaccines. A final decision on the waiver, which is also opposed by U.S. allies such as Germany, is likely to be made next month.

A protestor calling for the vaccine formulas to be shared globally. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

940,000 Americans have signed up for Obamacare since President Biden reopened registration on Healthcare.gov in mid-February. Biden signed an executive order in the first days of his presidency to reopen the federal insurance marketplace after millions lost coverage during the pandemic. 391,000 registered during the same period in 2020. The American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package recently approved by Congress, cut premiums on Obamacare coverage for the majority of recipients. Roughly ten percent of Americans (about 33 million people) lacked health insurance in 2019, according to CDC data. Eligible residents of the 36 states registered on Healthcare.gov have until May 15 to sign up.

The United Nations says maternal deaths, hunger, and stillbirths have spiked globally throughout the pandemic. The number of people in need of urgent food support rose to a five-year high of at least 155 million, according to a report. Stillbirths and maternal deaths spiked largely due to a shortage of at least 900,000 midwives. Violent conflict and economic shocks were significant drivers of food insecurity. In a statement, the World Food Program said that the organization’s initial warnings that the coronavirus pandemic would exacerbate food insecurity had borne out. “We are watching the worst-case scenario unfold before our very eyes,” they wrote

A cremation site for COVID-19 victims in India. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Food for thought, via Ellen: “India’s Problem is Now the World’s Problem,” Nobel-winning economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo argue in a New York Times op-ed. Banerjee and Duflo urge the United States and Europe to aid India with its worsening coronavirus outbreak, in order to be prepared for future outbreaks of mutated variants in Africa and in their own countries. “Getting ready now might give us a fighting chance to avoid a repeat of India’s nightmare,” they write.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern.)

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10:30 a.m. Then, at 11:39 a.m., he will deliver remarks on the April jobs report. At 12:30 p.m., he will have lunch with the vice president. At 1:45 p.m., he will receive his weekly economic briefing. At 3:15 p.m., he will meet with his “Jobs Cabinet.” At 5:30 p.m., he will depart for Camp David, where he will spend the weekend.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris will hold a virtual meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at 10 a.m. to discuss “ways to deepen cooperation between the United States and Mexico to address the root causes of migration from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.” She will then have lunch with Biden and join him for his economic briefing and “Jobs Cabinet” meeting.
  • U.S. public health officials will hold a press briefing at 10:30 a.m. on the COVID-19 response effort. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients will participate.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:30 p.m. with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.The Senate is not in session.
    The House will convene at 10:30 a.m. for a brief pro forma session.

The Supreme Court is not in session.

Several potential 2024 presidential candidates will address a Republican donor retreat in Austin, Texas. According to CNBC, the lineup includes former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC).

  • Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) will hold the kickoff rally of their nationwide “America First” tour at 6:30 p.m. in The Villages, Florida. Both pro-Trump lawmakers have generated controversy in recent months: Gaetz is under investigation in a federal sex-trafficking probe, while Greene has faced calls to resign over her promotion of conspiracy theories.

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