LONE STAR — Texas’ Big Political Read — 3.3.2021 — Texas Opens, But… —No Mas! No Masks! — West, Lee, Crenshaw, Cruz — More…
Texas is Open for Negocios (Espanol for Business), Finally
Texans are elated that Gov. Greg Abbott finally lifted all restrictions and masks, but the move was at great cost and sacrifice. The seemingly unnecessary and prolonged restrictions caused Texans to lose more than they should have. Florida, Texas’s chief economic rival, never closed and is flourishing under Gov. Ron DeSantis. READ MORE
Here is what some in Texas’s political class are saying about Abbott’s decision to reopen the state:
Texas GOP Chairman Allen West — We are glad Governor Abbott is following the example of Gov. @RonDeSantisFL of FL & @govkristinoem of SD & opening up Texas. We pray that our small businesses will be able to recover. That’s why the @TexasGOP is against a top-down federal government-mandated $15/hr. minimum wage.
Rep.Dan Crenshaw (R) — Happy Independence Day Texas.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) — Governor Abbott’s failure to listen to science and medical advice will cost Texans their lives. This decision is reckless and dangerous—and a desperate distraction from the Governor’s dereliction of duty during the power outages. He’s putting politics above the people of Texas.
Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D) —Governor Abbott’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate is the wrong one…I urge all Houstonians to continue to wear masks and follow the guidelines to stop the spread.
Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R) — Today is a very important day. Happy Texas Independence Day, y’all!
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) —
“Abbott Finally Opens Texas, But At Great Cost” by Texas Politics’ Javier Manjarres – Texas Governor Greg Abbott has just issued an Executive Order (GA-34) lifting the mask mandate in Texas and “increasing capacity of all businesses and facilities in the state to 100 percent.” “With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” said Governor Abbott. “We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed. Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.” In following the lead of S. Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Gov. Abbott’s lifting of the mask and reopening businesses to 100% is great news for Texans, but it comes at a cost.
“Gov. Greg Abbott Set to Lift Mask Mandate and Open State ‘100 percent’” by Texas Politics’ Isabel Webb Carey – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced in a news conference in Lubbock earlier today his decision to end Texas’ mask mandate and allow businesses to open to 100% capacity effective March 10. “Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small businesses have struggled to pay their bills. This must end.” Abbott stated in a press conference. “This must end.” The Texas Governor has faced intense scrutiny from some of his fellow Republicans for the mandate imposed last July along with other COVID-19 restrictions during a surge in cases. In October last year, Republican Party Chair Allen West led a protest outside the governor’s mansion to protest business closures and mask mandates. Abbott has simultaneously attracted criticism from mayors in Texas’ biggest cities for his consistently lax approach to restriction enforcement. In today’s news conference, Abbott described Texans as having “mastered the habits to keep from getting COVID” and cited the administration of a predicted 7 million vaccine shots across the state by next Wednesday. “Today’s announcement doesn’t abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year,” the governor tweeted. “Instead, it’s a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety & the safety of others.”
“Texas Democrats Partner with National Democratic Training Committee” by Texas Politics’ Isabel Webb Carey – The Democratic Party of Texas announced its partnership with the National Democratic Training Committee (NDTC) to train dozens of new candidates ahead of the 2021 municipal elections and 2022 midterm elections in response to recent “failed Republican leadership.” Over recent weeks, the state has struggled to recover from the devastating storm which left millions of Texans without power for multiple days as the state’s electric grid was quickly overwhelmed by the extreme weather last month. The state’s Republican leadership has since faced intense backlash for their handling of the crisis. Gov. Greg Abbott (TX-R) presented a false narrative that renewable power was to blame, while Rep. Ted Cruz (TX-R) drew national ire after he left the state for a family vacation while millions remained without power. The Texas Democrats indicated earlier today in a statement that it was partnering with the National Democratic Training Committee (NDTC) and had signed up more than 60 candidates to run for statewide or municipal offices. “In the wake of the deadliest winter storm in decades due solely to failed Republican leadership in the state of Texas, The Texas Democratic Party and National Democratic Training Committee know that winning elections has never been more crucial than it is right now,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “That’s why we created an innovative candidate training program to ensure that our candidates have the skills and resources necessary to win up and down the ballot in November.”
“Newsom blasts Abbott for removing Texas mask mandate: ‘Absolutely reckless’” by Fox News’ Morgan Phillips – California Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday blasted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s “absolutely reckless” reversal of a coronavirus mandate requiring masks. After eight months, Abbott announced Tuesday that beginning next Wednesday, March 10, Texans will not be required to wear masks in public. In a bid to reopen Texas “100 percent” Abbott also said he will rescind the state’s previous executive orders and allow all businesses to reopen at maximum capacity. “Removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility,” Abbott cautioned. “Personal vigilance to follow the safe standards is still needed to contain COVID. It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.” Meanwhile, 96 percent of California’s population remains in the most restrictive purple tier, though a number of counties are expected to move to the less restrictive red tier this week. Newsom is facing a recall effort, which could be nearing a vote, over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision comes as governors across the U.S. have been easing coronavirus restrictions, though Texas is one of the largest states to do away with a mask mandate. It follows Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all restrictions in September and banned local fines for those who don’t wear masks. He still allowed local governments to limit bar and restaurant capacity to 50 percent.
“Obscure program sends big money to Texas nursing homes amid pandemic. Is it protecting residents?” by KXAN’s David Barer and Avery Travis – Cissy Sanders was scrambling last April to get information — to do something, anything, for her vulnerable mother living in a nursing home where COVID-19 was spreading. Sanders phoned the facility, Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, directly. She called its management company Regency Integrated Health Services. She dialed up city leaders in Austin. She contacted local and national elected officials and news outlets. As she desperately waded through the labyrinthine structure of nursing home administration and ownership, Sanders struggled to find someone, anyone, with authority to field her questions. Then she made a surprising discovery. She learned the nursing home’s owner, the holder of its license, was not in Austin and wasn’t the nursing home’s corporate operator. The owner was housed in a nondescript building in rural Hamilton County, 120 miles north of her mother’s facility. “What is Hamilton County Hospital District? I had no idea,” Sanders said. Hamilton County Hospital District, which is a government body and operates under the name Hamilton Healthcare System, describes itself as a “hometown healthcare system.” It has a 25-bed hospital and a handful of small clinics, according to its website. But what you won’t find on the hospital district’s website is any mention that it owns Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Austin and more than 20 other nursing facilities spread from Brownwood in the center of the state, to McKinney in North Texas, to Bandera in the Hill Country, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
“A Texas ER doctor said reopening too soon is ‘devastating’ to state’s medical community” by Business Insider’s Lauren Frias – Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that he would lift Texas’ mask mandate and reopen the state “100%” starting next Wednesday, but a Texas ER doctor says the state is “nowhere near” its goal of herd immunity in order to safely reopen. Dr. Natasha Kathuria, an emergency medicine physician based in Austin told Insider that lifting health safety restrictions “is a very dangerous message that the governor is sending to Texans that may have dire consequences.” In January, Texas became the first state to administer one million doses of the vaccine and had administered 5.7 million vaccines by the time of the Tuesday announcement. But as the second-largest state in the country, “only 7% of Texans have been fully vaccinated as of today, with about 13% receiving one dose,” Kathuria, who has expertise in public health and epidemiology, said. “That’s nowhere near the goal of 75%, which would achieve herd immunity,” she added. Kathuria told Insider that lifting the state’s health safety guidelines was a “devastating” blow to the state’s medical community — one that comes just after the devastating winter storms that slammed Texas last month. As hospitalizations and cases improved with the vaccine rollout, the ER doctor said there was a “new sense of hope as a very palpable weight of fear was lifted off our shoulders.” “But before we knew it, we were blindsided by a new tragedy — the Texas freeze of the century,” she told Insider. “This hurt us in a way that COVID-19 never did, paralyzing many of our hospitals, shutting down labs, halting water and power to some of our hospitals, and preventing ambulance transfers, while leaving millions upon millions without heat, water, or power.”
“Texas Drops Its Virus Restrictions as a Wave of Reopenings Takes Hold” by New York Times’ Julie Bosman and Lucy Tompkins – Texas said Tuesday that it was lifting its mask requirement and would allow businesses to fully reopen, the most expansive step by any state to remove coronavirus restrictions as Americans across the country are eager to emerge after a year of isolation in the pandemic. The move by Texas, with its 29 million residents, goes further than similar actions in other states and cities that are rushing to ease as many limits as they can. “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent,” Gov. Greg Abbott said, adding that “Covid has not suddenly disappeared,” but state mandates are no longer needed. All around the country, governors and mayors are calibrating what is feasible, what is safe and what is politically practical. In Chicago, tens of thousands of children returned to public school this week, while snow-covered parks and playgrounds around the city that have been shuttered since last March were opened. Mississippi ended its mask mandate, too. Restaurants in Massachusetts were allowed to operate without capacity limits, and South Carolina erased its limits on large gatherings. San Francisco announced that indoor dining, museums, movie theaters and gyms could reopen on a limited basis. But federal health officials have worried that state and local leaders may be moving too fast. “I know people are tired; they want to get back to life, to normal,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday. “But we’re not there yet.”
“Fallout from Texas energy crisis that left millions in the dark continues” by ABC News’ Julia Jacobo – Texas lawmakers are looking to hold power companies and the executives who oversee them accountable for Texas’ recent energy catastrophe, which had deadly consequences. Millions in the state were left without heat and potable water following back-to-back winter storms. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit Tuesday against utility company Griddy Energy over enormous energy bills some customers incurred as a result of the storm. Bills were allegedly as high as $9,000. Griddy Energy charges $10 a month to allow residents to pay wholesale prices for electricity instead of a fixed rate. The wholesale prices spiked as temperatures dipped well below freezing as a result of the winter storms, leaving customers with exorbitant bills. “Griddy misled Texans and signed them up for services which, in a time of crisis, resulted in individual Texans each losing thousands of dollars,” Paxton said in a statement Monday. “As Texans struggled to survive this winter storm, Griddy made the suffering even worse as it debited outrageous amounts each day.” The lawsuit accuses Griddy of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices and seeks injunctive relief from Griddy “to ensure that the Texans it serves will receive truthful and accurate energy service in the future” as well as court-ordered refunds to customers.
“Latino farmworkers are frozen out of work after Texas storm iced citrus, other crops” by NBC News’ Suzanne Gamboa – The Arctic air that whipped into Texas last month put this season’s Rio Grande Valley harvest on ice, and it has left many farmworkers with no or very little work. Paulina, 74, usually harvests crops in the fields of the Rio Grande Valley from 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. But she said her work hours have been drastically cut. “Right now it’s very little [work], because the ice fell and we lost work [and] all the plants,” said Paulina, whom NBC News is identifying only by her first name because she is undocumented, like at least half of the country’s farm laborers. There is work with the onion crop, but the yield is expected to be reduced, leaving less work and competition for the jobs. “We go two or three hours, no more. We are in the house because there is not much work,” she said in Spanish, saying the lack of work affects “many people, many people.” The winter storm froze many of the region’s crops, particularly the citrus on the trees and blooms that would produce next year’s crops of grapefruit, oranges, lemons and some limes, said Juan Anciso, a professor who is a vegetable specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. “We lost the remaining fruit that was on the trees. They froze, and we also are going to lose next year’s crop, because this is the time that the blooms start to set,” Anciso said. “They need the foliage. It got interrupted, so there will be no crop next year, for sure, on the 23 to 26,000 acres of citrus.”
“Survey: 97% of Texas teachers, students, parents oppose STAAR testing this year” by KXAN’s John Engel – A statewide survey of students, teachers and parents in Texas found 97% of respondents oppose the state’s decision to administer the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, commonly referred to as STAAR tests, this year. The social media survey conducted by the office of state Sen. José Menéndez, a San Antonio Democrat, received 13,000 responses. In Senate District 14, which includes Travis County, 98% of educators, and 99% of parents opposed the tests. “The Texas Education Agency’s decision to administer the STAAR exam in person during the pandemic should be reconsidered,” Menéndez wrote in a letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath. “Our students have had to endure a pandemic, an unprecedented winter storm that deprived these students and their families of power and water, and being forced to rely on technology that was not available to some.” While elementary and middle school students learning virtually will be able to skip the in-person assessments and won’t be punished for doing so, high school seniors are still required to pass five end-of-course exams in order to graduate. End-of-course exam requirements were waived for graduating high school seniors in the 2019-20 academic year. Testifying before the Texas House Public Education Committee on Tuesday, Morath said it’s the state legislature that has authority to waive graduation requirements for seniors, not him.
“Texas voters’ views shifting on abortion, pot, gambling and Confederate monuments, poll finds” by Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey – The primary issues before the Texas Legislature are clear enough: the pandemic, the state’s unreliable electric grid, the budget, voting laws and police. But voters also support changes to laws around a number of high-profile secondary issues, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Most Texas voters support expanded gambling in the state, and a clear majority would legalize marijuana in some capacity. Half of them would leave Confederate statues and monuments in place, either as is or with added historical context. They remain split when it comes to the state’s abortion laws, but the number wanting stricter abortion laws has fallen over the last year, while those wanting less strict laws has risen. Public opinion in Texas about the availability of abortion has scarcely changed over the last several years. In this latest poll, 13% said abortion should never be permitted; 31% said “the law should permit abortion only in case of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is in danger”; 12% said it should also be allowed in other cases, “but only after the need for the abortion has been clearly established”; and 38% said “a woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice.” The survey found 40% of voters label themselves “pro-life” and 41% as “pro-choice.” Among the pro-life group, 56% would permit abortions in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is threatened; and another 10% would allow them in other cases. And among the pro-choice respondents, 76% would permit abortions with no restrictions and 20% would put some limits on when the procedure is legal.
“Proposed constitutional amendment could result in legalized sports gambling in Texas” by KSAT’s Max Massey and Azian Bermea – Could Texas see legalized sports gambling some time soon? Just a few weeks ago, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said a bill on legalized gambling would never see the light of day, but Texas Rep. Dan Huberty recently proposed a constitutional amendment that could allow Texans to vote on allowing sports wagering. Huberty said it would be money that he hopes to use for state causes, like education efforts. “I’m talking already about $5.6 billion. It’s going out of the state for people that are already doing this. And that’s just, that’s just what we believe it’s to be. We believe it’s you know, it’s obviously much higher than that,” District 127 Texas State Rep. Dan Huberty said. $5.6 billion is money that the state of Texas could really use. “There’s no income being generated associated with that. And so we looked at that from a perspective that said, OK, if 25 other states have done it, 23 states are doing it today. We’ve been looking at this for a very long time,” Huberty said. Huberty said this is a way that fans who are passionate about their teams can bet legally, but done so in a way that can help the state. “Texas has lagged behind in our funding for special education and meeting what we call maintenance of effort over the years. And so, this will help bridge that gap as well,” Huberty said. There are now four proposals revolving around sports wagering that are public, according to the Texas legislature database. You can find the four proposals by clicking here.
“Biden administration argues migrant surge is a ‘challenge,’ not a ‘crisis’” by Fox News’ Michael Ruiz and Kristin Fisher – President Biden is declining to call the situation at the southern border a crisis – even amid reports that his administration needs another 20,000 beds at migrant facilities to deal with a surge of unaccompanied minors. When asked during an appearance Tuesday if there was a crisis at the border, Biden declined to use the term. “No — we will be able to handle it, God willing,” Biden said. Later, at a White House briefing, Fox News’ Kristin Fisher asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki, “at what point does it become a crisis?” “We had the security of Homeland Security yesterday conveying it’s a challenge,” Psaki replied. “We’re going to approach this without labeling. We’re going to approach this with policy, with humanity and with a focus on what we can do to keep these kids safe.” Experts predict as many as 117,000 unaccompanied minors will cross the border this year. Meanwhile, Democratic Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose district includes a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border, said that while the situation is not yet a crisis in his eyes, it’s “getting there.” “The numbers have been increasing,” he told “America’s Newsroom” Tuesday afternoon. “The number of unaccompanied kids, the number of families that are coming in are just increasing every day. In my district, just a couple of days ago, 166 people [crossed the border]… So it’s not a crisis yet, but it’s going to get there very soon.”
“California ‘mass casualty’ crash involved smugglers, illegal immigrants, Border Patrol source says” by Fox News’ Audrey Conklin, Lucas Manfredi, William La Jeunesse, Adam Shaw – A California highway crash involving human smugglers and 25 illegal immigrants jammed into a single SUV left over a dozen dead Tuesday, a Border Patrol source tells Fox News. The wreck involved an overloaded Ford Expedition, which normally seats eight, and a semi-truck near the U.S.-Mexico border, the source says. Officials noted that the SUV though only had two seats in the front, while all of the back seats had been removed to create more space for passengers. The crash occurred in Holtville, a town about 125 miles outside of San Diego, according to Fox 11 Los Angeles. California Highway Patrol officers found 12 people dead on scene, while another person died at a local hospital. Meanwhile, the remaining eight victims with injuries were transported to different local hospitals. Authorities do not yet know if the driver of the Ford, who died in the crash, had stopped at a stop sign before crossing into the path of the big rig around 6:15 a.m., CHP Chief Omar Watson told reporters. The gravel-hauling semi-truck hit the left side of the SUV, which appeared to have been pushed off the road. “Obviously, that vehicle is not meant for that many people,” Watson said. “It’s unfortunate that that many people were put into that vehicle because there’s not enough safety constraints to safely keep those people in that vehicle.”
“Dems push bill to erect Ruth Bader Ginsburg monument” by Fox News’ Caitlin McFall – Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation calling for the erection of a monument dedicated to the late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at the U.S. Capitol. “Justice Ginsburg’s dedication to our country’s values and ideals is an example for every American,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Tuesday. “She was an icon and a trailblazer who dedicated her life to opening doors for women at a time when so many insisted on keeping them shut.” Ginsburg, a liberal icon who passed away in September, is being recognized at the start of Women’s History Month in two separate bills introduced by both congressional chambers. The House bill sponsored by Democratic Women’s Caucus co-Chair Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida, along with Reps. Jackie Speier California, Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, Veronica Escobar of Texas and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, was introduced Monday and mirrors the Senate’s companion bill. “The Capitol is our most recognizable symbol of Democracy, a place where people from across our country have their voices represented and heard,” Klobuchar said. “It is only fitting that the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives honor her life and service by establishing a monument in the Capitol.” Klobuchar was joined by 15 other Senate Democrats requesting the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library select an artist to construct the memorial.
“A new program can animate old photos. But there’s nothing human about artificial intelligence” by CNN’s AJ Willingham – It’s hard to explain the mix of emotions that spark upon seeing a photo of Frederick Douglass come alive with the click of a button. And yet, there he is, blinking and nodding as if he were just alive yesterday, as if he hadn’t died in 1895, years before film recording became commonplace. His animated image and others like it — at the same time unsettling, emotional, and a bit fantastical, are made possible by Deep Nostalgia, an artificial intelligence program from the genealogy platform MyHeritage. As far as AI-animated images go, the technology behind these Harry Potter-esque photos isn’t particularly complex. Users are invited to supply old photos of their loved ones, and the program uses deep learning to apply predetermined movements to their facial features. It also makes up for little moments that aren’t in the original photo, like the reveal of teeth or the side of a head. Together it creates, if not an entirely natural effect, than a deeply arresting one. Responses to the Deep Nostalgia images — tears at seeing a grandmother’s smile, an eerie feeling of connection to a long-dead historical icon — knock on a mysterious emotional wall between us and this type of rapidly-evolving technology. “The draw here is that visual imagery is visceral and compelling and we respond to it,” says Hany Farid, associate dean and head of the School of Information at UC Berkeley. “We are visual beings. When you see your grandmother or Mark Twain come alive, there’s something fascinating about it.”
“Democrats in Congress begin sweeping effort to overhaul election laws” by CNN’s Fredreka Schouten – Congress began debate Tuesday on a sweeping ethics and elections package pushed by Democrats that seeks to dramatically overhaul the nation’s rules for voting and funding political campaigns. Although the so-called For the People Act is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House, it faces stiff headwinds in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority and leading Republicans have vowed to kill the measure — something likely to happen because the measure is not expected to get the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.
The stakes are enormous: The 2022 midterm elections loom, along with the once-a-decade process to redraw legislative districts that will shape which party controls Congress for years to come. The fight over the federal voting bill comes as Republican-controlled states — acting on former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a rigged 2020 election — are moving swiftly to pass state laws that would make it harder to vote by imposing new voter ID requirements and cutting back on the early and mail-in balloting that so many states adopted or expanded last year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Just this week, Georgia’s GOP-controlled House approved a package that, among other provisions, would limit weekend early voting, restrict the use of drop boxes to return absentee ballots and bar advocates from providing food and water to voters as they wait in line to cast their ballots. The liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has tallied 253 bills with restrictive voting provisions introduced this year in 43 states. Arizona and Georgia — states that flipped from Trump to President Joe Biden last November — led the way with nearly two dozen bills apiece, according to the center.
“6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published anymore because they portray people in ‘hurtful and wrong’ ways” by CNN’s Amanda Watts and Leah Asmelash – Six Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the business that preserves the author’s legacy said.The titles are:
· “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”
· “If I Ran the Zoo”
· “McElligot’s Pool”
· “On Beyond Zebra!”
· “Scrambled Eggs Super!”
· “The Cat’s Quizzer”
In a statement, Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it made the decision after consulting educators and reviewing its catalog. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” it said. The announcement was made Tuesday, the birthday of the famed children’s book author. Seuss, born Theodor Seuss Geisel, is one of the best-known authors in the world, the man behind beloved classics like “The Cat in the Hat,” “Green Eggs and Ham” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” among others. Over 650 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide, the Washington Post reported in 2015.
“Biden Expects U.S. to Have Covid-19 Vaccines for All Adults by End of May” by WSJ’s Tarini Parti and Sabrina Siddiqui – President Biden said the U.S. would have enough Covid-19 vaccines for all American adults by the end of May, two months earlier than he had previously said, after regulators authorized the one-shot Johnson & Johnson JNJ -0.19% vaccine and Merck MRK 0.65% & Co. agreed to help produce it. Mr. Biden also called on states to give priority to teachers, school staff and child-care workers for vaccinations, as virtual learning continues for many students across the country. Several teachers unions have made vaccinations part of their negotiations for returning to in-person teaching. Mr. Biden said 30 states are giving priority to such workers for the shot. Mr. Biden said the federal pharmacy program would give priority to teachers, and he set a goal for those workers to get at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of March. “We’re moving in the right direction,” he said Tuesday. “And today’s announcements are a huge step in our effort to beat this pandemic.” Mr. Biden said the partnership to make the new J&J vaccine, which was cleared by regulators on Saturday, is “the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II.” He said the U.S. will have enough supply for all adults by the end of May, but it wasn’t immediately clear when everyone will be able to get the shot. The seven-day average of Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the U.S. recently hit 1.8 million a day, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
“FBI Director Says Jan. 6 Capitol Riot Was Inspiration for More Extremism” by WSJ’s Aruna Viswanatha and Sadie Gurman – FBI Director Christopher Wray defended the bureau’s handling of information warning of the prospect of violence on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters and described an increasingly complex extremist threat landscape in the wake of the attack on the U.S. Capitol. “The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now, and it’s not going away anytime soon,” Mr. Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee at a Tuesday hearing, adding that the ideologies motivating a variety of extremists were proving difficult to pinpoint. “In some cases, it seems like people are coming up with their own sort of customized belief systems—a little bit of this, a little bit of that—and they put it together maybe combined with some personal grievance or something that’s happened in their lives,” he said. “Trying to get your arms around that is a real challenge.” Around 300 people have been charged with federal crimes in connection with the riot by former President Donald Trump’s supporters on the day Congress was certifying President Biden’s election victory. The alleged crimes range from trespassing to conspiracy and assault charges, laying bare the bureau’s challenges in stopping politically motivated violence before it occurs. The Capitol attack was “an inspiration” to other extremists, Mr. Wray said, heightening the urgency of countering it.
“Biden Administration’s Review of Sanctions Programs Could Take Months, White House Official Says” by WSJ’s Megqi Sun – The Biden administration’s ongoing review of U.S. sanctions programs could take months as key personnel await Senate confirmation, a senior White House official said. The review will serve as a basis for U.S. sanctions policy over the course of the administration, Peter Harrell, senior director of international economics and competitiveness with the National Security Council, said Tuesday. The U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asked for the review, which focuses in part on whether U.S. sanctions programs are achieving their stated goals as well as having potential unintended consequences, such as blocking the provision of food, medicine or other humanitarian supplies, Mr. Harrell said at a virtual conference hosted by Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists. “The goal of sanctions should not be to punish ordinary citizens for the actions of their leaders,” he said. The Biden administration plans to use sanctions in a targeted manner and as part of a broader tool kit in support of its foreign policy goals, working closely with allies and partners, according to Mr. Harrell. Punitive economic sanctions were former President Trump’s primary tool for confronting U.S. rivals. But some experts and former officials have questioned the value of such measures as a stand-alone tactic, as the sanctions haven’t brought about major new diplomatic agreements or pushed U.S. adversaries to make substantive policy changes.
“U.S. House panel reissues subpoena for Trump’s tax records” by Reuters’ Jan Wolfe – A U.S. House of Representatives panel has reissued a subpoena seeking Donald Trump’s tax and financial records, saying in a memo made public on Tuesday it needs the documents to address “conflicts of interest” by future presidents. In a court filing on Tuesday, House lawyers told a judge that the House Oversight Committee reissued a subpoena to Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP, on Feb. 25. The committee issued a similar subpoena in 2019, but that subpoena expired in January when new U.S. lawmakers took office. Tuesday’s court filing included a Feb. 23 memorandum from the committee’s chairwoman, Representative Carolyn Maloney, explaining to colleagues the decision to reissue the subpoena. Maloney asserted that, because of long-running court challenges, her committee had been “denied key information needed to inform legislative action to address the once-in-a-generation ethics crisis created by former President Trump’s unprecedented conflicts of interest.” Maloney said her committee’s need for the material “remains just as compelling now as it was when the Committee first issued its subpoena” in 2019. Trump spokesman Jason Miller did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Biden withdraws Tanden’s nomination to be White House budget chief” by Reuters’ Nadita Bose and Jeff Mason – President Joe Biden on Tuesday withdrew the nomination of Neera Tanden to be his budget director after she ran into stiff opposition over tweets that upset lawmakers, in the first Capitol Hill rebuff of one of his nominees. “I have accepted Neera Tanden’s request to withdraw her name from nomination for director of the Office of Management and Budget,” Biden said in a short statement on Tuesday. The decision to withdraw Tanden’s nomination reflected the tenuous hold his Democrats have on the Senate. With the Senate split 50-50, Vice President Kamala Harris could have cast a tie-breaking vote in Tanden’s favor. But that was not an option after moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he would not vote to approve the think tank director. Manchin’s defection had sent the White House – and Tanden – scrambling to find one Republican backer. But they ultimately came up empty-handed, even after a last-minute meeting with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski on Monday. Her backers decried what they called a hypocritical and sexist push to punish Tanden for harsh tweets directed at both Democrats and Republicans, after four years of similar language used by Republican former President Donald Trump. Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, tweeted: “Disheartening. For salty tweets. After what we’ve been through for 4 years.”
“Crisis-hit New York Governor Cuomo faces loss of pandemic emergency powers” by Reuters’ Jonathan Allen – The New York legislature plans to strip Governor Andrew Cuomo of coronavirus emergency powers, lawmakers said on Tuesday, following admissions the governor’s office withheld data about the COVID-19 death toll among nursing home residents. Cuomo faces mounting crises and investigations both over the nursing home scandal and accusations of sexual harassment by two women who worked for him. A senior aide to Cuomo last month admitted the governor’s office withheld requested death toll data, angering state lawmakers over what they perceived as a cover-up. The aide said Cuomo feared the revelation would prompt then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, to launch a federal investigation. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a joint statement they were close to passing legislation to end powers granted Cuomo at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Passage could come as soon as Friday, said Jonathan Heppner, a spokesman for the state Senate majority.