LONE STAR — Texas’ Big Political Read — 2.5.21 — COVID Vaccine Roll Out Continues — Abbott, Sessions, Cornyn, Cruz – More…

LONE STAR — Texas’ Big Political Read — 2.5.21 — COVID Vaccine Roll Out Continues — Abbott, Sessions, Cornyn, Cruz – More…

Javier Manjarres
Javier Manjarres
February 5, 2021

COVID Vaccine Roll-Out Continues Across Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continues rolling out the COVID vaccines for Texas, and this week announced that the state’s Texas Division of Emergency Management will be deploying its Mobile Vaccination Teams to those counties that have been “underserved.”

Those counties are:


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Making a Border Run

That’s is exactly what Illegal aliens will be doing now that President Joe Biden has signaled that he would be reversing President Donald Trump’s entire immigration agenda.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is trying to put in place old Obama-era pro-illegal immigration reforms. The “Catch and Release” immigration program may soon come back to life.

Gov. Abbott is all pushing to permanently expand telemedicine services around the state. READ MORE

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions believes that Biden’s border policies will further incentivize illegal immigration.”

“We must learn from the lessons of our past. President Biden’s border policies will further incentivize illegal immigration just like the Obama Administration did,” stated Rep. Sessions.

FILE — Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) listens during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, on June 24, 2020. Gohmert tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, ahead of a planned trip with President Donald Trump on Air Force One, officials familiar with the matter said. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)

“Abbott’s Push to Permanently Expand Telemedicine Services” by Texas Politics’ Isabel Webb Carey – During his State of the State address on Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for a permanent expansion of telemedicine services to “ensure a healthier Texas.” Within Governor Abbott’s healthcare priorities, he recognized telehealth as an important tool to extend quality care, benefitting both patients and doctors. Abbott said he wants lawmakers to pass legislation to expand telemedicine indefinitely. “One healthcare tool that proved very helpful during the pandemic was the use of telemedicine,” Abbott stated. “It’s convenient for both the patient and the doctor. We should seize the opportunity this session to permanently expand telemedicine so that every Texan in every region of the state can benefit.” Abbott also listed the expansion of broadband access as an emergency item this session describing it as “an essential tool that must be available for all Texans.”  The move attracted support from the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). “The ATA applauds Governor Abbot for recognizing the unique role that telehealth can play in bringing quality care to those who need it most, including underserved and rural communities,” said ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson. “The ATA is hopeful that the Texas state legislature will work with Governor Abbott to pass this needed telehealth legislation. We remain available to act as a resource to Texas policymakers and to policymakers in state capitals across the country.”

“Temporary Protection for Planned Parenthood’s Federal Funding” by Texas Politics’ Isabel Webb Carey – Following Governor Greg Abbott’s recent announcement that Texas would cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, efforts have once again been put on hold by a temporary restraining order. District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble issued the order on Wednesday which blocked Texas’ plans to exclude Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funding. A court hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 17. Anti-abortion advocates have long sought to deny federal Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. After lengthy court battles, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Texas officials and allowed the state to remove Planned Parenthood from the federal healthcare funding program which provided services to those unable to cover high costs of healthcare. The organization requested a six-month delay to help its Medicaid patients find new doctors, citing the ongoing pandemic. The state health commission granted a 30-day grace period that was scheduled to end on Wednesday. Planned Parenthood has since filed an emergency lawsuit in which it asserted that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission failed to issue “a proper notice of termination” from the program. The organization also highlighted that 8,000 low-income residents would lose access to non-abortion health services at its clinics if Texas succeeds in blocking federal funding. Currently, the Texas Medicaid program does not cover the cost of abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is at risk, due to the 1976 Hyde Amendment.

“Texas Democrats Respond to Abbott’s State of the State Address” by Texas Politics’ Isabel Webb Carey – Following Gov. Greg Abbott’s State of the State address Monday, Texas Democrats released a 10-minute video response which criticized him for his “failed leadership.” “Let’s be clear. No matter what Governor Abbott says, we have suffered under his watch because of his actions. We are all hurting,” said Texas Democrat Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa. After an introduction from Hinojosa, the video featured citizens from across Texas, who shared how the pandemic impacted their lives and expressed dissatisfaction with leadership. Some hit out at recent reports of over 36,000 deaths and 2 million cases. Included among them were political leaders, students, healthcare professionals, immigration activists. Other political leaders were also featured in the video. The video targeted Abbott’s leadership, but also highlighted other issues including economic relief, criminal justice reform, and expanding Medicaid. It emphasized the need for equity in healthcare access, as well as wider racial justice issues. In light of the overwhelming Republican majority, it seems unlikely that Texas Democrat hopes for this session will be fulfilled. “Our state’s leadership under Governor Abbott has failed to adequately respond [to the coronavirus], leaving Texas with one of the worst outbreaks and one of the worst responses in the entire nation,” claimed Julián Castro. “We have all suffered under his watch because of his actions. We are all hurting. Texans are demanding an end to this pandemic and a fair shot to get ahead.”

“House Democrats Block Consideration of the Reopen Schools Act” by Texas Politics’ Isabel Webb Carey – Yesterday, House Democrats blocked the request made by Reps. Michael Burgess (TX-R) and Ashley Hinson (IA-R) to consider the Reopen Schools Act. First introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI-D) in June 2020, the Act would have given full federal funding to schools that physically reopen during the coronavirus pandemic and penalized districts that remain closed. Hinson’s Reopen Schools Act contains new conditions on the $54.3 billion that Congress allocated to K-12 schools in December to help them safely reopen. She sought to reduce federal funding for schools that are not open for in-person learning from the amount provided under the last bipartisan coronavirus legislation. Her proposal would make two-thirds of funding contingent on in-person classes for at least 50% of the time and at 50% capacity. “Kids and families are suffering,” Hinson said in a floor speech Tuesday evening. “As a mom of two school-aged kids, this issue is personal to me. This issue is personal to all parents.” She went on to emphasize the costs of online learning to the mental health of children. “Students need to be back in the classroom,” Burgess tweeted yesterday. “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.” Texas Senator John Cornyn joined his party in attacking the slow reopening of schools across the country and echoed Hinson’s concerns over the “mental and emotional tolls.” He shared a story of a boy who was nearly driven to suicide by remote learning and recited grim statistics on children’s mental health over the course of the pandemic.

“Cornyn Calls for Schools to Reopen” by Texas Politics’ Daniel Molina – Democrats hurled verbal jabs at the Trump administration, accusing it of not following the advice of scientists when it came to a number of issues. Now, with the Biden administration approaching its first month in office, Texas Senator John Cornyn (R) is calling for the administration to listen to scientists when it comes reopening schools because of the negative effects that it’s having on students across the United States. The comments made on the Senate Floor were in reference to the need for students to return back to school, admitting that it’s in their best interest to continue receiving adequate education while also ensuring that schools are following proper protocols to provide the healthiest environment possible. “As weeks turned into months, it became clear that many kids were falling behind, especially in foundational subjects like math and reading, and the learning deficit is even greater for students of color and those in high-poverty communities,” expressed the Lone Star state lawmaker. Speaking on the resources that parents might not have readily available for their children, Corny noted that “we know families, they just don’t have the ability either to access broadband or they don’t have the supervision at home of family members to help keep children on task when it comes to virtual learning.”

“Jen Psaki Faces Republican Backlash after Space Force Quip” by Texas Politics’ Isabel Webb Carey – White House press secretary Jen Psaki has recently faced backlash from Republicans after her dismissive quip about the future of the Space Force. She has since addressed the question on Twitter. During a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Psaki was asked if President Joe Biden had made any decisions whether to keep the Space Force and what its scope would be. “Wow. Space Force. It’s the plane of today,” Psaki responded. “It is an interesting question. “I am happy to check with our Space Force point of contact. I’m not sure who that is. I will find out and see if they have any update on that.” Her comment was in apparent reference to a question at a previous briefing about the Air Force One color scheme. Psaki has since come under fire from Republicans who are accusing her of making fun of the year-old military service championed by former President Donald Trump. The space service branch traces its roots back to the Cold War and was founded on a bipartisan basis. The United States Space Force Act was signed in 2019 and came to be seen as one of the Trump administration’s great achievements. Its operations consist of monitoring the nation’s GPS and missile warning satellites and lawmakers in both parties see Space Force as integral to countering potential Chinese and Russian space threats. The service has become a popular punch-line in Hollywood, but some progressive groups have previously called for Biden to abolish the service.

“Biden’s Defense Secretary Ousts Pentagon Advisory Boards To Purge Trump Appointees” by Texas Politics’ Mona Salama – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has dismissed hundreds of members of 42 Pentagon advisory boards in an effort to oust last-minute Trump administration appointees, according to a memo to senior Pentagon leadership. According to the memo dated Saturday, Austin removed all members serving on 31 defense advisory boards effective Feb. 16, including the Defense Policy Board, the Defense Business Board, and the Defense Innovation Board, and directed the immediate suspension of operations of 42 panels so the Pentagon can complete a “zero-based review.” “I am directing a zero-based review of all DoD advisory committees, to include any advisory committee that is not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA),” the memo reads. “I also direct, no later than February 16, 2021, the conclusion of service for all DoD advisory committee and subcommittee members currently serving on DoD advisory committees where the DoD approving authority is the Secretary of Defense or where a statute authorizes another DoD civilian officer or employee, or Active Duty member of the Armed Services to act as the DoD approving authority.” The ousting comes after Austin once sworn-in to the position began halting the processing of Trump’s appointees including Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, deputy campaign manager David Bossie and former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller’s chief of staff Kash Patel. Both Lewandowski and Bossie who were named to the Defense Business Board were still in the security clearance process while Patel had been sworn in but his in-processing had been put on hold.

“Third North Texas real estate professional is charged with storming U.S. Capitol building” by Dallas Morning News’ Kevin Krause – A third member of a group of North Texas real estate professionals who took a private plane to Washington, D.C., for a Donald Trump rally has been charged in federal court in connection with the storming of the U.S. Capitol. Frisco real estate agent Jason Lee Hyland is accused, along with Frisco real estate broker Jennifer “Jenna” Ryan and Colleyville real estate agent Katherine “Katie” Schwab, of being in a mob that breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, federal court records show. Hyland, 37, is at least the 11th North Texan to be charged after the violent Washington uprising. In other developments, a Burleson man who is also accused of storming the Capitol and claimed to work for Murder the Media News, was indicted Thursday on a conspiracy count. Nicholas DeCarlo, 30, took part in a plot to stop Congress from certifying the results of the presidential election, according to the seven-count indictment. He and a Proud Boys member also raised money for the effort, authorities said. Ryan, 50, documented the Texas trio’s two-day trip to Washington on Facebook and Twitter. That included a photo of her, Hyland and Schwab posing on Jan. 5 in front of a private plane on the tarmac of a Denton airport before their departure.

“COVID-19 testing has become a “cash cow” for freestanding ERs in Texas, experts say. And it’s getting out of control.” By Ashley Lopez, KUT News – Edgar Barguiarena and his fiancee, Marissa Javaid, wanted to see family in Houston over the holidays, so they decided to get COVID-19 tests before their trip. Javaid noticed a drive-thru testing site at Austin Emergency Center on South Lamar. It was advertising results within 48 hours, which they thought was perfect. “They had maybe a banner that said ‘PCR testing with a quick turnaround,’” Barguiarena said, “and we were looking for that.” Austin Emergency Center runs four freestanding ERs in Austin. These are emergency rooms not attached to hospitals. Barguiarena and Javaid drove out to the ER on a Monday morning right before it opened. They waited an hour and a half to get tested; then the process took another 30 minutes. “The test itself went fairly smoothly,” he said. “We spoke to a nurse that had asked some very basic questions beforehand, and then we had a doctor come through a few minutes after that to do the actual test itself.” Barguiarena said they gave staff their health insurance cards and were told they probably wouldn’t have to pay anything out of pocket; their insurance would take care of it. All they had to do at this point was drive away and wait for results. About two days later, they learned they were in the clear: Both tested negative for COVID-19. Weeks after that, Barguiarena was looking at his insurer’s website. He was curious about the cost of the test and expecting it to be about $200 or $300. “The reality was quite stark,” he said. “It ended up being closer to almost $2,000 that was ultimately charged.” In a statement, an Austin Emergency Center spokesperson said it doesn’t directly charge insured patients for COVID-19 tests.

“Winners and losers: Texas House Speaker shakes up chamber’s leadership with emphasis on new faces” by Dallas Morning News’ James Barragan – House Speaker Dade Phelan shook up the chamber’s leadership Thursday as he announced committee assignments that replaced veteran lawmakers in important positions and appointed 12 members to lead committees for the first time. “The House stands to benefit from members assuming new roles and responsibilities and the fresh perspectives these appointments provide,” Phelan said in a statement. “I have utmost confidence that each of these appointees will excel in the positions they’ve been selected for.” Phelan stuck to the chamber’s tradition of appointing committee chairs from the minority party relative to their proportion of the body’s total makeup. Thirteen Democrats will lead committees this session and Democrat Joe Moody of El Paso will reprise his role as speaker pro tem. Republicans will lead the other 21 committees. Phelan stressed the diversity of his choices. Five women were tapped to lead committees. Fourteen committee chairs are Black, Hispanic or Asian American. Eleven committee chairs are from rural areas and 24 are from urban areas. Now that the decisions have been made, here’s a look at who the big winners and losers are, according to a group of experts interviewed by The Dallas Morning News.

“North Texas Democrat Pushes for More Diversity at Texas Capitol” by Spectrum News’ Karina Kling – A North Texas state lawmaker is trying to diversify the Texas Capitol. Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, wants his fellow lawmakers to join his “Diversity Under the Dome” initiative. He’s urging them to recruit people from different backgrounds to work as legislative staffers. “When you have diversity in any organization, you’re much better,” he said. “You understand all of the different dynamics that play out culturally speaking, ethnically speaking and as well gender speaking. And companies that are diverse outperform Wall Street according to Harvard studies.” Rep. Sherman is beginning his second term and says several of his fellow lawmakers have gotten on board. But he’s pushing for it to be a bigger bipartisan effort. “It matters if you have representatives that have diversity in their staff when you’re drafting bills that address the needs and interests of people who may be different from you culturally, may be different from you gender wise and ethnically, it makes a difference, and I think you come out with better legislation,” he said. Click the video link above to watch our full interview with Rep. Sherman, including his recent recovery from COVID-19.

“Judge blocks Texas effort to remove Planned Parenthood from Medicaid” by The Hill’s John Bowden – A district court judge in Texas moved late Wednesday evening to temporarily halt the state’s effort to remove Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid program just hours before the state was set to do so. A state district judge in Travis County, Maya Guerra Gamble, granted three Planned Parenthood affiliates operating in Texas a temporary restraining order while setting a hearing for Feb. 17. “It appears from the specific facts set forth in the verified Application for Temporary Restraining Order, and the evidence submitted to the Court, if any, that immediate and irreparable harm will result to Providers before notice can be served on the OIG and HHSC and a hearing can be held on Providers’ request for a temporary restraining order unless the OIG and HHSC are restrained as requested,” Gamble wrote, referring to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and its Office of Inspector General. Texas officials had sent a notice to Planned Parenthood providers in late January stating they would be kicked out of Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor. The organization is seeking to continue to receive Medicaid funding to provide non-abortion services, and filed an emergency lawsuit asking courts to institute a temporary restraining order Wednesday alleging that Texas failed to issue a “proper termination notice” under state law governing which providers are covered by Medicaid.


“Texas Children’s Hospital begins vaccinating teens with chronic, underlying health conditions” by Click 2 Houston’s Jonathan Martinez – A major effort is underway by Texas Children’s Hospital to vaccinate young teens and adolescents with chronic and underlying health conditions. “An older adolescent or young adult unvaccinated is at risk and with a chronic underlying medical condition, they may be hospitalized and may suffer a real setback due to COVID-19. It may require advanced critical care,” said Dr. Jim Versalovic, the Interim Pediatrician in Chief at Texas Children’s Hospital. Hospital leaders with Texas Children’s said they have already identified more than 85,000 patients who would be eligible through their equitable allocation framework and under the State’s 1B plan which includes those 16 and older with chronic and underlying health conditions. ”These can range from heart disease and cancer to down syndrome. Obesity and other chronic conditions that may put them at greater risk,” said Versalovic. Earlier this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended everyone 16 and older are eligible to get vaccinated. As the country’s largest pediatric health care system, leaders with Texas Children’s said it is more important than ever to get the message out. ”This is a vulnerable population and many of these older adolescents and young adults desperately need a vaccine and we’re here to deliver it,” said Versalovic.

“Texas Eviction Diversion Program aims to keep people in homes during pandemic” by KDFW’s Shaun Rabb – Justices of the Peace in Dallas County were briefed Thursday on the Texas Eviction Diversion Program, an effort to keep people in their homes and off the streets. While some advocates have mixed reviews on the state effort to ease evictions, for anyone facing an uncertain future it could be the help they need. “My cleaning business went under first and I went to find a job and then that’s when I got COVID-19,” said Shaunte Banks. It was a double pandemic whammy for the single mother of five who is now three months behind on rent and facing eviction. “It’s very hard to catch up,” Banks said. “I don’t get Section 8. I was paying rent out of my pocket.” By some estimates, 1 million Texans are at least one month behind on rent. President Joe Biden, by executive order, extended the federal evictions moratorium through March. Then, courts will hear eviction cases again. But some landlords argue their needs should not be ignored either. “We have a lot of people depending on us. We have staff maintenance crews, we have mortgages we need to pay, we have taxes to pay,” said Hudson Henley, Henley Properties. That is where the Texas Eviction Diversion Program comes in. Real estate attorney Rachel Khirallah calls it kind of like mediation for tenants and landlords. “If the landlord and the tenant do come to an agreement, then the eviction is actually dismissed so there would never be an eviction on the tenant’s record,” Khirallah said.

“Texas House District 68 special runoff election set for Feb. 23” by KFDX / KJTL – Governor Greg Abbott has set the date for the Texas House District 68 special runoff election. Craig Carter and David Spiller will go head-to-head for the Texas House District 68 seat on Tuesday, Feb. 23, according to a new proclamation from Gov. Abbott. In the Jan. 23 election, Spiller received 43.4% of the vote and Carter received 17.8% of the vote. Even though Spiller received more votes than Carter, he did not receive the necessary majority to win, resulting in a runoff.


“House ousts Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees in unprecedented vote” by Fox News’ Marisa Schultz – House Democrats took the unprecedented step of removing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from her two committee assignments for espousing violence and conspiracy theories on social media before she was elected to Congress in November. The 230-199 vote was bipartisan, with 11 Republicans joining with all Democrats to oust Greene from the Committee on Education and Labor and the House Budget Committee. House Republicans appointed Greene to both panels last month after the freshman rep was sworn into Congress. Democrats said they were forced to take action to uphold the standards of decency in Congress because Republicans refused to penalize Greene for her history of incendiary remarks. “Serving on a committee isn’t a right. It’s a privilege. When someone encourages violence against a member, they should lose that privilege,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Rules Committee. “The party of Lincoln is becoming the party of violent conspiracy theories,” McGovern continued. “And apparently, the leaders of the Republican Party in the House today aren’t going to do a damn thing about it.” Republicans widely disavowed Greene’s past comments — which included QAnon conspiracies, claims that mass school schoolings were staged, suggesting a plane didn’t hit the Pentagon during 9/11, endorsing violence against prominent Democrats and espousing anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim views.

“Hunter Biden likely paid big bucks for deal on soon-to-be-released book” by Fox News’ Morgan Phillips – Though the numbers aren’t public, Hunter Biden was likely paid big bucks for his new book deal. The tale of Hunter Biden’s experience with drug addiction will “likely” earn the president’s son a number in the “high six figures,” a book industry source told Fox News. Fox News has reached out to Simon & Schuster for confirmation. The memoir “Beautiful Things” will be published through Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, on April 6. In a snippet released by Gallery Books, Hunter writes, “I come from a family forged by tragedies and bound by a remarkable, unbreakable love.” Sources tell the Daily Mail Hunter likely received an advance as high as $2 million and could earn millions more if he allows his life story to be filmed. President Trump and Republicans have hit Hunter not only for allegedly attempting to profit off his father’s name but also for his struggles with drug addiction. In 2014, Hunter was kicked out of the military after testing positive for cocaine. Biden supporters have been quick to point out that Hunter has suffered greatly through the loss of his mother and sister in a car accident at a very young age and the loss of his brother Beau to brain cancer in 2015. President Biden has defended his son from Trump’s attacks last fall. “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem,” the then-Democratic candidate said. “He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it, and I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.” The title of Hunter’s book refers to an expression he and his brother would use with each other after Beau’s diagnosis, meant to emphasize what was important in life.

“Gavin Newsom recall ‘at the 10 yard line’ as campaign clears 1.4 million signatures” by Fox News’ Caitlin McFall – The effort to force a recall vote against California Gov. Gavin Newsom is looking increasingly likely as more than 1.4 million signatures have been collected as of Thursday, according to the Recall Gavin Campaign. The proponents of the recall effort hope to hit 2 million signatures by March 17th, but only 1.5 million are needed to trigger a mid-year election. The recall campaign of the Democratic governors was launched by Orrin Heatlie, Chairman of The California Patriot Coalition, but other groups have joined the effort – including Republican Congressional hopeful Joe Collins, who launched a 28-day “Recall Road Trip” earlier this week. Collins will visit 16 cities appealing to Californians frustrated with the Democratic governor’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He will collect signatures. “Gavin has been less than mediocre for California,” Collins told Fox News Thursday. The Los Angeles native believes that California became a “hotbed” for the virus “due to a lack of leadership.” “Instead of giving money to illegal immigrants, he should have given back to small businesses … he should have been transparent on why he chose to shut down California,” Collins said. California has seen the highest number of coronavirus cases throughout the country, though the state’s death total still trails that of New York. But a recent spike in cases prompted the governor to enforce a new round of stay-at-home orders at the end of last year, infuriating California Republicans.

“Trump quickly rejects impeachment managers’ request for testimony at impeachment trial” by CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju – The House impeachment managers on Thursday requested Donald Trump testify at his upcoming Senate impeachment trial, in a dramatic move to try to get the former President on the record about his conduct surrounding the January 6 riots at the Capitol. But Trump’s legal team quickly responded by rejecting the invitation in a terse response to the House impeachment team, putting the decision back on the Democrats over whether to try to compel Trump’s testimony with a subpoena. Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin sent a letter to Trump’s attorney Thursday requesting that Trump testify before or during the upcoming impeachment trial, which begins on Tuesday, arguing that his testimony was needed after he disputed the House’s allegations that he incited the insurrection at the Capitol. “Two days ago, you filed an Answer in which you denied many factual allegations set forth in the article of impeachment,” Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, wrote. “You have thus attempted to put critical facts at issue notwithstanding the clear and overwhelming evidence of your constitutional offense. In light of your disputing these factual allegations, I write to invite you to provide testimony under oath, either before or during the Senate impeachment trial, concerning your conduct on January 6, 2021.” Trump’s lawyers quickly responded to Raskin’s request on Thursday, writing back in a three-paragraph letter, saying the request was a sign the House could not prove its allegations against Trump.

“Biden and top Democrats split on how to cancel student debt” by CNN’s Kate Lobosco – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren once again called on President Joe Biden to use executive authority to cancel student debt on Thursday — but the President wants Congress to act first. “The President has and continues to support canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person as a response to the Covid crisis,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing. She added that that the President is “calling on Congress to draft the proposal,” and “looks forward to signing it.” In one of his first acts in office, Biden extended the pause on student loan payments and interest, a Covid relief benefit put in place by Congress last year that had already been renewed by the Trump administration. Federal student loan borrowers won’t have to make payments until October 1 at the earliest. But some Democratic lawmakers are hoping for more. Schumer and Warren, along with Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, led dozens of other Democrats in reintroducing a bicameral resolution Thursday that calls on Biden to cancel $50,000 per borrower — something they argue that he has the executive power to do. A similar resolution was introduced last year calling on the Trump administration to forgive student loan debt — but former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos slammed that proposal as “government gift giving.” House Democrats included a provision to cancel $10,000 per borrower in a sweeping Covid relief bill passed in May that was never taken up in the then Republican-led Senate.

“Who Could Receive a Third Stimulus Check? What Biden and the GOP Are Proposing” by WSJ’s Richard Rubin and Andrew Duehren – Republicans have called for a more-targeted approach to a third round of stimulus checks, while Democrats have argued that broad distribution is necessary to cover gaps in other federal programs. Here is a look at the proposals, which differ both on the size of the payment and in who is eligible. President Biden has proposed checks of $1,400 per person as part of his $1.9 trillion aid plan, effectively topping up the $600 payments from December to $2,000. Democrats promised that amount during the Senate campaigns in Georgia that gave them the majority, and Mr. Biden has shown no signs of budging on that. The Biden proposal didn’t specify the income levels at which the checks would start shrinking, and officials said they were open to discussions on that. In the past rounds, the payments began shrinking once adjusted gross income reached $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples. But Democrats in recent days have talked about setting those levels at $50,000 and $100,000. A group of 10 Senate Republicans has proposed scaling back the checks to $1,000 per adult and $500 per dependent adult and child. The Republican plan would reduce the size of the checks for individuals making $40,000 a year or more and phase them out entirely when income reaches $50,000. Married couples with a joint annual income above $80,000 would see smaller checks, going to zero when income reaches $100,000. The plan didn’t specify the phaseout rules for households with children.

“GOP Puts Minimum Wage, School Reopenings in Covid-19 Aid Spotlight” by WSJ’s Andrew Duehren – Senate Republicans unleashed a blitz of amendments to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan, seeking to put Democrats on the spot over raising the minimum wage and the pace of school reopenings, among other issues. Under the special procedure Democrats are using to pass the $1.9 trillion plan, Republicans can offer an unlimited number of amendments to the budget resolution the Senate is now considering. Passing the budget resolution will move Democrats forward with reconciliation, a process that allows the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority. The House approved the budget resolution Wednesday. Because the budget is nonbinding and never becomes law, the amendment votes are largely symbolic, a factor that can influence how much support they receive. Republicans offered amendments on cutting federal funding to states that have an active investigation into underreported deaths in nursing homes and blocking aid for schools that don’t reopen after teachers have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is under fire over nursing-home deaths, and several states and cities are grappling with teachers unions, a key Democratic constituency, over when to reopen schools. Both the amendment on reporting nursing-home deaths and the amendment on reopening schools failed in the Democratic-controlled chamber. Another amendment in the mix would prevent Congress from raising the federal minimum wage during a pandemic; Mr. Biden’s relief plan calls for gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. His proposal would also bolster federal unemployment assistance, send $1,400 direct checks to many Americans, provide funds for vaccine distribution and offer aid to schools.

“Border Patrol Releases More Migrants Into U.S. After Mexico Stops Taking Some Back” by WSJ’s Alicia A. Caldwell and Jose De Cordoba – U.S. Border Patrol agents are increasingly releasing asylum-seeking families into the U.S. after Mexican authorities began refusing to take some families back in January, U.S. officials said. In recent weeks, an influx of families arriving along parts of the border has filled some holding facilities, where capacity has been reduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Customs and Border Protection said in a statement. “Per longstanding practice, when long-term holding solutions aren’t possible, some migrants will be processed for removal, provided a Notice to Appear, and released into the U.S. to await a future immigration hearing,” CBP said in a statement Thursday. CBP said the Biden administration will continue using what legal authorities it has to keep migrants out of crowded detention facilities during the pandemic. Mexican immigration and foreign ministry officials said Mexico hasn’t ended its practice of accepting all returned migrants, but officials in some stretches of the border have made “adjustments” to accommodate a change in Mexico’s immigration law that bars officials from holding migrant children and their families in detention centers run by the immigration service. Those migrants must now be turned over to the DIF, Mexico’s social-service agency for children and families. “The law says we can’t have minors in immigration centers, they must be taken to shelters run by the DIF, where they wait until their migratory status is defined,” said a spokeswoman for Mexico’s immigration agency.

“Facebook faces a reckoning in Myanmar after blocked by military” by Reuters’ Fanny Potkin – The Myanmar military’s shutdown of Facebook access following the ouster of the democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi caps years of tension between the social media company and the most powerful institution in a nation where Facebook is used by half the population. The junta on Wednesday banned Facebook Inc until at least Sunday after the regime’s opponents began using it to organize. A new civil disobedience page had gained nearly 200,000 followers and the support of Burmese celebrities in the days after the coup, while a related hashtag was used millions of times. “The Tatmadaw sees Facebook as their internet nemesis because it’s the dominant communication channel in the country, and has been hostile to the military,” Human Rights Watch Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson told Reuters, referring to the country’s army. “Since the Burmese people are rapidly moving online to organize a massive civil disobedience campaign, shuttering access becomes a top priority.” A company spokeswoman on Thursday urged Myanmar authorities to restore access to Facebook and WhatsApp to the country’s 54 million residents. Facebook will have to decide how to play the delicate balance of protecting the democratic politicians and activists versus cooperating with the new regime to get services restored–an especially acute example of the political dilemmas the company faces worldwide.

“Smartmatic sues Fox News, Giuliani over election-rigging claims” by Reuters’ Helen Coster – Electronic voting systems maker Smartmatic on Thursday sued Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News cable network and Rudolph Giuliani, a lawyer for former President Donald Trump, claiming they falsely accused the company of helping to rig the U.S. presidential election in favor of Joe Biden. The defamation suit, filed in New York County Supreme Court, also names as defendants former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, Fox Corp and Fox hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro. Smartmatic alleged Fox and other defendants invented a story that the election was stolen from Trump and made Smartmatic “the villain in their story.” “Fox News used the story to preserve its grip on viewers and readers and curry favors with the outgoing administration,” the lawsuit said. The suit seeks more than $2.7 billion in compensatory and punitive damages. Smartmatic also asks for defendants to retract false statements. “Fox News Media is committed to providing the full context of every story with in-depth reporting and clear opinion,” a Fox News Media spokesperson said in a statement. “We are proud of our 2020 election coverage and will vigorously defend this meritless lawsuit in court.” Dobbs referred questions to Fox News for comment, as did a representative for Bartiromo. The other defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Florida-based Smartmatic’s technology was only used in one place for the Nov. 3 presidential election – Los Angeles County, which Biden won.

“Wisconsin governor clashes with lawmakers over statewide mask mandate to curb coronavirus” by Reuters’ Steve Gorman – Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers renewed his COVID-19 emergency health order and statewide mask mandate on Thursday, shortly after the state’s Republican-controlled legislature voted to repeal his earlier order requiring face coverings in public places. The showdown followed months of rancor and legal battles between Evers, a Democrat, and Republican lawmakers over a series of restrictions he has imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Republicans have argued that Evers has repeatedly exceeded his authority as governor by issuing executive orders lasting more than 60 days without seeking approval of the legislature. The governor has countered that he has the power to renew mask-wearing orders and related restrictions under a public health emergency posed by a deadly pandemic. Although medical experts say face coverings are one of the most effective means for breaking the transmission cycle of the respiratory virus, mask-wearing became deeply politicized during the Trump administration. Announcing his latest orders on Thursday, Evers cited an opinion poll showing Wisconsin residents overwhelmingly support mask requirements for public places. It was not immediately clear what additional action the legislature might take to impose its will against the governor. Last year, a stay-at-home order issued by Evers was invalidated by the state Supreme Court in a lawsuit that Republican lawmakers brought against the lockdown.

“Romney proposes child care benefit for families, fueling Democrats’ push” by Politico’s Rebecca Rainey – Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Thursday released a plan to provide families with a monthly cash benefit of as much $350 for each child, embracing calls by President Joe Biden and Democrats to increase the child care tax credit to help low-income Americans struggling during the pandemic. Romney’s Family Security Act would replace the Child Tax Credit with a $3,000 yearly benefit per child — $4,200 for kids under the age of 5 — spread out in monthly installments that begin four months before a child’s due date, according to a summary of the proposal. “American families are facing greater financial strain, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and marriage and birth rates are at an all-time low,” Romney said in a statement. “This proposal offers a path toward greater security for America’s families by consolidating the many complicated programs to create a monthly cash benefit for them, without adding to the deficit.” Romney’s proposal — which he predicts would boost nearly 3 million children out of poverty — is likely to get bipartisan backing, with a top White House official signaling support for his framework. “Really looking forward to see what @SenatorRomney will propose here,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain tweeted on Thursday, “an encouraging sign that bipartisan action to reduce child poverty IS possible.”

“New Senate intel chief wants to reimagine “decimated” spy agency” by Politico’s Matin Matishak – Some Democrats may be eager to use their newfound power in Washington to investigate the misdeeds of the Trump era. But Mark Warner isn’t interested in performing an autopsy of the last four years in the U.S. intelligence community. The Virginia Democrat and newly installed chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee doesn’t believe he would best serve the country by launching probes into the political pressure spy agencies faced under former President Donald Trump, who labeled elements within the intelligence community part of the “deep state” and clashed with them over issues like Russian election interference. Instead, Warner would rather focus on depoliticizing and rebuilding the clandestine organizations. “I’ve thought about it, obviously,” Warner said when asked about the possible investigations during a nearly hour-long interview in his Senate office this week. But, he added, “I don’t know if that’s really the best use of the committee’s time.” In particular, the government’s top spy agency — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — emerged “decimated” and “in shambles” from the last four years, he said. Trump frequently targeted the office, whose last two chiefs, Richard Grenell and John Ratcliffe, had little experience in intelligence but were close allies of the former president. Weeks before last year’s election, Ratcliffe declassified unverified Russian intelligence over the concerns of the CIA and National Security Agency in order to boost Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about the federal government’s efforts to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. But Warner thinks this tense political moment provides an opportunity to realign the office — established after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and responsible for coordinating the 18 agencies that make up the nation’s spy community.

“Biden health team hatches new vaccine strategy as variant threat builds” by Politico’s Sarah Owermohle and David Lim – The Food and Drug Administration is preparing to release new standards for Covid-19 vaccine booster shots, tests and drugs in the coming weeks — all aimed at preparing the country to beat back fast-spreading virus variants that are less susceptible to existing shots. The agency confirmed Thursday that it plans to release draft guidance. It could come in two to three weeks, according to four people familiar with the discussion. In the meantime, federal and state officials are scrambling to track how widely the coronavirus variants first found in South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom are spreading in the United States. The strains’ arrival threatens to reverse the country’s slow progress in curbing new infections, hospitalizations and deaths after a post-holiday surge — the worst yet in the nearly year-old U.S. outbreak. The variants have raised the stakes for the Biden administration as it strives to deliver on the new president’s promises to ramp up the pace of vaccinations and bring the pandemic under control. FDA’s new strategy for adapting drugs, tests and vaccines for the variants is a cornerstone of the administration’s battle plan, drawn in part from years of experience fighting the fast-mutating flu virus. The work has consumed FDA staff, according to an industry executive. Meanwhile, officials at the National Institutes of Health — the sprawling scientific campus where Anthony Fauci leads infectious-disease research — are working with at least two vaccine manufacturers, including Moderna, to start human trials next month of variant-targeting vaccines.

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Javier Manjarres

Javier Manjarres

Javier Manjarres is a nationally renowned award-winning political journalist. Diverse New Media, Corp. publishes Floridianpress.com, Hispolitica.com, shark-tank.com, and Texaspolitics.com He enjoys traveling, playing soccer, mixed martial arts, weight-lifting, swimming, and biking. Javier is also a political consultant, and has also authored "BROWN PEOPLE," which is a book about Hispanic Politics. Learn more at www.brownpeople.org Email him at [email protected]
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