No sooner has the White House addressed the move by Texas to ban vaccine mandates than a new story comes up on other red states that are considering similar action.
The Associated Press reports:
With the governor of Texas leading the charge, conservative Republicans in several states are moving to block or undercut President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers before the regulations are even issued.
The growing battle over what some see as overreach by the federal government is firing up a segment of the Republican Party base, even though many large employers have already decided on their own to require their workers to get the shot.
The dustup will almost certainly end up in court since GOP attorneys general in nearly half of the states have vowed to sue once the rule is unveiled.
The courts have long upheld vaccine mandates, and the Constitution gives the federal government the upper hand over the states, but with the details still unannounced and more conservative judges on the bench, the outcome isn’t entirely clear.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines. It was perhaps the most direct challenge yet to Biden’s announcement a month ago that workers at private companies with more than 100 employees would have to get either vaccinated or tested weekly for the coronavirus….
White House officials brushed off Abbott’s order, saying the question of whether state law could supersede federal was settled 160 years ago during the Civil War. They said the Biden administration will push through the opposition and put into effect the president’s package of mandates, which could affect up to 100 million Americans in all.
…Elsewhere, lawmakers in Arkansas have approved a measure creating vaccine-mandate exemptions. Though the GOP governor hasn’t said whether he will sign it, it has prompted fears businesses will be forced to choose whether to break federal or state law.
Calls for special legislative sessions to counter vaccine mandates have been heard in states like Wyoming, Kansas and South Dakota. Bills are being introduced or drafted elsewhere too, including swing states like Ohio and New Hampshire. In Utah, lawmakers have not taken action, but a record-setting crowd of over 600 people packed a legislative hearing room last week…
…While the conservative legislative push may not ultimately succeed in blocking the mandates, it could be a stumbling block and could prove to be another factor pushing the GOP further right.
Meanwhile, some data:
‘There are choices that need to be made’ on $3.5tn bill – WH
The White House has addressed strategies to get Joe Biden’s flagship $3.5tn finance bill passed, confirming that the president is in favor of trimming the package to boost its chances of being approved by Congress.
“We are at a point where there are choices that need to be made, given that there are fewer dollars that will be spent,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Psaki said that the conversations are ongoing between White House senior staff and the president as well as key Democrats such as senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona about how to trim the bill and what a smaller package would look like.
Psaki was asked if the president supports House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy for the “Build Back Better” bill outlined in a letter she sent to caucus members on Monday, passing a bill with fewer programs that will receive more funding. Though she wouldn’t confirm if the president supports that specific strategy, Psaki noted that the bill will be smaller versus the $3.5tn Biden originally proposed and chose to refer to comments Pelosi made during a press conference today.
“What [Pelosi] said in that press conference is that, “If there are fewer dollars to be spent, there are choices that need to be made” and the president agrees … if it’s smaller than $3.5tn, which we know it will be, then there are choices that need to be made,” said Psaki.
“A bill that doesn’t pass means nothing changes,” said Psaki to reporters.
When asked if the Biden administration will sue the state of Texas over a recent ban on vaccine mandates, the White House said: “The president will use every lever at his disposal” to enforce federal vaccine mandates ordered by Joe Biden last month.
At the press briefing today, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked by a reporter if the US plans on suing the Lone Star state over Governor Abbott’s recent executive order banning vaccine mandates throughout the state, a reversal on a previous decision allowing private businesses to decide if they will implement mandates.
Psaki criticized Abbott, noting mounting Covid-19 deaths in Texas. “Why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives?” said Psaki.
Psaki also reiterated that the Biden administration will continue to implement federal vaccine mandates for employers, doubling down that the president has the authority to do so.
“We’re going to continue to implement the law…which the [president] has the authority to do,” said Psaki.
The House is gathering soon to consider the temporary debt ceiling agreement and the White House is just beginning its regular media briefing now, with press sec Jen Psaki.
It’s been a lively morning so far, here are the highlights:
- Vice-President Kamala Harris said today that Europeans who colonized the US “ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations, perpetrating violence, stealing land and spreading disease”.
- Barack Obama will travel to Richmond, Virginia, on 23 October to campaign for Democratic governor candidate Terry McAuliffe. Stacey Abrams and Jill Biden are also hitting the trail soon for the veteran politician.
- Prominent liberal commentators are getting worried about the fate of Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The NYT and BNC’s Charles Blow warned that the Democratic administration “are staring down real danger”.
- Donald Trump’s family company is close to selling his luxury Washington DC hotel for more than $370m, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- The House of Representatives is returning a week early from its recess today in order to vote on the deal approved in the Senate last Friday to extend the government’s borrowing authority into December.
Questions over Moderna’s booster shots, as Pfizer recipients flock.
There are some important Associated Press reports today on US coronavirus vaccinations.
The news agency first reports on booster shots by US company Moderna, saying:
Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration said that Moderna Inc had not met all of the agency’s criteria to support use of booster doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, possibly because the efficacy of the shot’s first two doses has remained strong.
FDA staff said in documents that data for Moderna’s vaccine showed that a booster does increase protective antibodies, but the difference in antibody levels before and after the shot was not wide enough, particularly in those whose levels had remained high.
The documents were released ahead of a meeting later this week of the FDA’s outside expert advisers to discuss booster doses of the vaccine.
The FDA typically follows the advice of its experts, but is not bound to do so. A panel of advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet next week to discuss specific recommendations on who can receive the boosters, if the FDA authorizes them.
Meanwhile, the AP further reports that 103 million Americans have had the US-German Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, 69 million people in the US have been injected with Moderna’s shot and 15 million with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
US vaccinations have climbed back above 1 million per day on average, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks. The rise has been driven mainly by Pfizer boosters and employer vaccine mandates.
With many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations already rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot, millions who received the Moderna or J&J vaccine are waiting to learn when it’s their turn.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was “disappointed” that Democrats are not moving forward with the full scope of Joe Biden’s $3.5tn social policy and climate change package, reiterating that lawmakers would have to make “difficult” decisions to trim the package to win the support of two centrist holdouts in the Senate.
Speaking at a press conference today, Pelosi wouldn’t expand on which programs might be scaled back or eliminated. The full bill includes provisions that would reduce child care costs, expand health care coverage, make education more affordable and combat climate change.
But Pelosi also appeared to walk back what she said in a letter to her caucus on Monday that House Democrats “overwhelmingly” supported a less-is-more approach to scaling back the bill: investing more money in fewer programs.
When asked if any key provisions would have to be cut, such as universal pre-K, the child tax credit, tuition-free community college, paid family leave, Medicare expansion, Pelosi said she hoped not and suggested making all programs temporary in order to cut costs. The logic is that a Republican administration would have a hard time repealing popular programs, as has been the case historically.
Pelosi again reiterated that she would not make the House vote on a package that could not earn 50 votes in the Senate. Currently, Democrats are attempting to winnow the package by at least $1.5tn to in order to secure the votes of two centrist Democrats, senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The Senate is in recess this week, but Pelosi was in Washington today for a House vote to raise the nation’s borrowing limit to avoid a debt-default. The bill is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House, but Pelosi said she was hopeful it would be approved with bipartisan support.
“That seems to have some appeal to both sides of the aisle because of the consequences to people for not lifting it,” Pelosi said.
Kamala Harris: European colonizers ‘ushered in wave of devastation’
Vice president Kamala Harris said today that Europeans who colonized the US “ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations, perpetrating violence, stealing land and spreading disease.”
In remarks at the National Congress of American Indians 78th annual convention, Harris discussed the history of colonization in the Americas and its connection to present-day Indigenous communities.
“We must not shy away from this shameful past, and we must shed light on it and do everything we can to address the impact of the past on Native communities today,” said Harris.
Harris noted several inequalities facing Native communities such as higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and the epidemic of missing Indigenous women and girls.
“Today we know that Native women and girls are missing and murdered at alarming rates. This is an epidemic and it must end,” said Harris.
Harris also spoke about the Biden administration commitment to honoring tribal sovereignty and investing in Indigenous communities, including an announcement that the administration will be renegotiating the 477 program, described by Harris as an initiative that would allow tribes to make decisions on how to deliver and implement federal services.
Obama, Abrams to campaign for McAuliffe in Virginia
Former president Barack Obama will travel to Richmond, Virginia next Saturday to campaign for Democratic governor candidate Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Democrats, McAuliffe announced today via Twitter.
In addition to an appearance from Obama, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and first lady Jill Biden will also be making appearances throughout the Old Dominion state to support McAuliffe’s bid for a second term as governor.
McAuliffe has previously served as Virginia’s governor from 2014 to 2018 and was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005.
As the governor election are less than a month away, the race between McAuliffe and Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is heating up. According to a poll released last week, 49% of Virginia voters would elect McAuliffe while 48% would pick Youngkin, reports the Hill.
Experts warn that results for the next Virginia governor could foreshadow next year’s midterm election outcomes.
In July, President Biden also hit the campaign trail for McAuliffe, calling Youngkin “an acolyte to Trump” in a pitch to rally attenders.
McAuliffe recently walked back on a previous comment he made that Biden’s dropping popularity was hurting his chances to get re-elected for the governorship.
Democrats in danger? – report
As the House gathers today to vote on last week’s short-term deal to raise the debt ceiling and avert economic crisis, a shiver of worry is rippling over the faithful, concerned that Joe Biden’s agenda is in peril from partisan in-fighting.
Charles Blow, a prominent New York Times columnist and an anchor on the Black News Channel, published a searing op-ed that begins: “The Democrats are staring down real danger.”
Blow questions not only whether Congress can deliver the president’s flagship pieces of legislation on a badly needed infrastructure overhaul and a social and climate program, but also essential federal protections for voting rights, new laws on police reform and other issues including the souther border and the persistent pandemic.
They just aren’t getting enough done. They aren’t moving quickly enough on President Biden’s major campaign promises.
The warning signs are all around.
Democrats are still wrangling over their infrastructure and social spending bills. And the longer the fight drags on, the uglier it looks. Washington watchers are right — to a degree — to say that this is simply the way that large legislation is worked through. It’s a slog.
In the end, I believe that the Democrats will have no choice but to pass something, no matter the size, because the consequence of failure is suicide. Democrats must go into the midterms with something that they can call a win, with something that at least inches closer to the transformations Biden has promised.
But the budget isn’t the only issue.
There is still a crisis at the border. In August, the Pew Research Center noted that the U.S. Border Patrol had reported “nearly 200,000 encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in July, the highest monthly total in more than two decades.”
That’s the largest number since Bill Clinton was president.
The handling of Haitian immigrants was a particular blight on the administration, and the images of officers cracking their reins like whips will be hard to erase from memory.
Furthermore, the Senate parliamentarian has advised Democrats against including a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants in their spending bill. It is not clear if Senate Democrats will try to get around the parliamentarian’s nonbinding ruling, but 92 legal scholars have called on them to do just that.
As for police reform, negotiations on that legislation completely fell apart with customary finger-pointing as the epilogue…
…Then there is the massive, widespread assault on voting rights rolling out across the country, what some have rightly referred to as Jim Crow 2.0…
…Not to mention that Covid is still killing far too many Americans.
Democrats have been unable to deliver much to make their voters happy…
There’s more, then Blow finishes in devastating style.
Biden is better than Trump, but that’s not enough. People didn’t just vote for Biden to vanquish a villain; they also wanted a champion. That champion has yet to emerge.
In an interview today, California representative Adam Schiff agreed with an assertion that Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy is an “insurrectionist in a suit and tie.”
Schiff, who is also a member of the House committee investigating the 6 January capitol riot, spoke with CNN’s John Berman about his experience during the riot and his reactions to Republicans who were advising him on how to stay safe during the insurrection.
“My next reaction was to think, “If you all hadn’t been lying about the election, let alone lying about me for four years, I wouldn’t need to be worried about my security. None of us would need to be worried about it,” said Schiff.
“What angered me the most, I think, about that day were these insurrectionists in suits and ties who were, still, even after the bloody insurrection, even after all the shattered glass and death of that day, were back on the House floor, trying to overturn the election,” Schiff said about Republicans in Congress who attempted to overturn the 2020 election in favor of Donald Trump.
When asked if he thought Representative McCarthy was an insurrectionist in a suit and tie, McCarthy confirmed, adding that McCarthy has “absolutely no reverence for the truth.”
A leading member of the House committee investigating the 6 January riot is insisting that they will hold any witnesses that do not show up for committee testimony in criminal contempt.
In an interview with MSNBC, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California confirmed that witnesses defying subpoenas could be criminally prosecuted and be charged with contempt in Congress.
“If witnesses do not show up, we will hold them in criminal contempt,” said Schiff who is a member of the panel. “That will be a sign that our democracy is recovering.”
Schiff’s statement comes after several former aides of Donald Trump have publicly stated that they will defy subpoena requests, including strategist Steve Bannon and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Sale of Trump hotel in Washington close – report
The family company of former president Donald Trump is close to selling his luxury Washington DC hotel for more than $370m, reports the Wall Street Journal.
CGI Merchant Group, a Miami-based investment firm, is in talks to acquire the lease on the hotel, these people said. The Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., is located in the former Old Post Office, a short walk down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in a building featuring some of the largest guest rooms in the capital…
…The lease deal could ultimately fetch closer to $400 million, which would represent roughly a doubling of the money the Trump Organization spent to convert the government building into a luxury hotel, said one of the people familiar with the matter.
The sale corresponds with ongoing investigations from House committees about potential conflicts of interest and finance issues involving Trump.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has been examining the lease terms between the Trump Organization and the federal government’s General Services Administration for use of the Old Post Office. The deal predates Mr. Trump’s entry into national politics, but the committee is probing how well Mr. Trump managed conflicts of interest while president.
A Friday report from the House committee said the hotel lost more than $70 million between its opening in 2016 and last year, leading the company to inject at least $24 million in aid.
The Trumps have disputed those findings, though their government filings show a slowdown in business. The hotel generated about $150 million in revenue over four years, according to Mr. Trump’s financial disclosures while president. His most recent disclosure, which covered all of 2020 and the first few weeks of 2021, showed the hotel’s revenue fell to $15 million, compared with $40 million in 2019.
Read the rest of the story here (paywall).
Jury selection for the trial of Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian businessman closely associated with Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump, will begin today, a case that could provide insight into campaign finance operations including during the failed re-election bid of former president Donald Trump.
Parnas is accused of concealing an illegal $325,000 donation in support of Trump’s re-election bid. Parnas has also been charged with using donations to US politicians to get recreational marijuana distribution licenses, reports Reuters.
Parnas has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including campaign finance crimes.
Two years ago, Parnas was arrested in a Washington airport while boarding a flight to Vienna. Their arrest took place during the investigation and inevitable impeachment of Trump.
Trump, Giuliani, and other politicians will likely be mentioned in the trial. Jurors will face questions on whether their political biases could impact their ability to make a fair judgment.
The trial against Parnas is separate from a federal investigation into Giuliani’s activity in Ukraine and whether Giuliani violated lobbying laws while working as a lawyer for Trump.
Pelosi writes to Democrats about Build Back Better
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi showed her hand last night on what she thinks is the best way forward in agreeing a compromise among Democrats to get Joe Biden’s $3.5tr Build Back Better social and environmental policy legislation passed with a lower price tag.
As the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are holding up the deal – and at this point Biden’s whole legislative agenda – by insisting on a very much smaller package, time is ticking and Democratic leaders (and voters) are becoming frustrated.
This despite the US president’s insistence that “we’re going to get it done”, in passing both a version of the $3.5tr bill and the bipartisan $1tr infrastructure bill this month.
Now Pelosi has written a “Dear colleagues” letter to her Democratic fellows on Capitol Hill.
It says: “In order to pass both the Build Back Better Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill on time, it is essential that difficult decisions must be made very soon.
“Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis: a Build Back Better agenda for jobs and the planet For The Children!
“At the same time, we must lift the debt ceiling and hope that we can have a unanimous Democratic vote and perhaps a bipartisan vote to do so.”
Democrats remained deeply at odds over the scale and structure of the more expansive package which contains a host of progressive priorities, provisions to expand healthcare access, establish paid leave, combat climate change and reduce poverty – all underwritten by tax increases on wealthy Americans and corporations.
The Democrats are trying to score a major legislative victory with razor-thin majorities in both chambers of congress. Failure would deny Biden much of his domestic agenda, leaving the party with little to show for their time controlling the White House, the Senate and House, as my colleague Lauren Gambino wrote earlier this month. You can read her full story here.
Today, the House of Representatives is returning from its recess a week early to approve a Senate-passed bill that would temporarily raise the debt limit.
Democrats, currently in control of the House, are expected to raise the borrowing limit to $28.9tn, a $480bn increase to avoid a government shutdown, though another debt limit increase will be needed on 3 December, when funding for most federal programs expires under a stopgap budget that was passed early this month.
Today’s expected vote comes after the Senate’s partisan vote last week, with many Republicans voting to oppose increasing the spending cap. The Democrat-controlled Senate managed to pass the temporary spending increase last Thursday with the help of 11 Republicans, including Republican senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, though McConnell has vowed to holdback his support for an additional extension in December.
The House will meet at 3pm (ET) and votes on the bill are expected no earlier than 5pm (ET).
House returns for vote on debt while anxiety grows over delays in Biden agenda
Hello, US live blog readers, it’s a big day on Capitol Hill as the House returns early from recess to vote on the temporary rise to the debt limit agreed in frenzied scenes in the Senate late last week.
Here’s what to expect today:
- The House of Representatives is returning a week early from its recess today in order to vote on the deal approved in the Senate last Friday to extend the government’s borrowing authority into December.
- Concerns are growing at the slow pace of Biden’s Congress to pass his flagship bills on infrastructure ($1tn), social benefits and climate change ($3.5tn) and other major themes concerning voting rights and police reform.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to her Democratic colleagues last night saying that she was in favor of funding fewer programs well rather than more programs more thinly, if (ie when) the flagship $3.5tn finance bill now being fiercely debated is trimmed down.
- Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian businessman who associated closely with Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump, stands trial today in New York, accused of campaign finance crimes.