Biden wants you to know he’s trying
While his party languishes over how to pass voting rights legislation, a frustrated president and vice president are taking the case straight to the people.
Biden’s big voting rights speech • On days like today, I think back to something President Joe Biden said last October during a CNN town hall: “Look, when you’re President of the United States and you have 50 Democrats, everyone is a President.” These words have proven true over again as Biden has accomplished a lot in his first year but failed to sign legislation on key priorities to the young and multiracial coalition who elected him in 2020.
Voting rights is one of those issues.
You know the deal by now: The House passed two bills that would protect and expand the right to vote in the face of insidious anti-voter efforts at the state and local level. Republican politicians will tell you that 2020 saw historic turnout but what they’ll gloss over is that those numbers are the impetus for many of the voter suppression you’re seeing today. Federal legislation would reverse or blunt much of the GOP’s efforts. But medieval Senate rules have enabled Senate Republicans to block the debate that must take place before final votes can be cast on the bills.
Just change the rules, right?
Easier said than done when you’ve got two Democratic senators who would rather not for completely different reasons. The White House is quick to tout Biden’s 36 years of Senate experience as a boon for smoothing out this type of family drama; thus far, it’s delivered mixed results. But Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says he will hold a vote to make it easier to advance the legislation anyway. As of now, there’s little indication he’ll get the result he desires.
This brings me back to the president.
He and Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Atlanta today to speak on voting rights. The administration was intentional about the location calling it a place with profound civil rights history. Biden is expected to advocate for protecting the most the right to vote in a free, fair and secure elections. “He’ll make clear, in the former district of the late Congressman John Lewis, that the only way to do that are for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during her daily briefing on Monday.
Voting rights advocates will be listening especially closely to the speeches for any sign of sustainable momentum on a path forward. (Several groups will be skipping the event in protest of what they view as inaction on the part of the administration, Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein at NYT report.)
“President Biden and Vice President Harris have an enormous opportunity to use the full extent of their bully pulpit to make final passage of these two historic pieces of legislation a priority,” Jessica Jones Capparell, director of government affairs at the League of Women Voters, said in an email to Supercreator. “The American people have waited long enough, it's time for no more excuses and time to get serious about voting rights.”
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are engaged in their own counterattack.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell sent a memo branding the campaign for voting rights as “the left’s big lie,” a reference to Donald Trump’s false claim of a stolen election. McConnell says voting rights aren’t in peril and that the legislation is part of a sinister plan to silence Republican voices. And last night, McConnell rebuffed Schumer’s offer to put a series of Republican proposals up for a vote in exchange for a vote on the two voting rights bill.
“If making it more difficult to vote is not silencing the voices of people — words that Senator McConnell used — I don’t know what is,” Psaki said when asked about the “ironic” memo, before listing all the times McConnell previously supported voting rights. “What has changed?” Psaki asked. “That’s a question for him, less for us.”
ICYMI: Slavery is a part of Congress’s origin story • “More than 1,700 people who served in the US Congress in the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries owned human beings at some point in their lives,” according to Julie Zauzmer Weil, Adrian Blanco and Leo Dominguez, who researched census records and historical documents to compile a database for a Washington Post investigation.
These Congress members who enslaved people weren’t just in the South, but every state in New England, much of the Midwest and many Western states. “As Northern states outlawed slavery, the proportion of congressmen who were slaveowners declined,” Weil, Blanco and Dominguez report. “But some congressmen in New England continued to enslave people until at least 1820, and some representatives of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states continued to enslave people for at least a decade longer.” Read the entire investigation.
Perhaps the most pointed sentence of the story: “This database helps reveal the glaring holes in many of the stories that Americans tell about the country’s history.” These are the types of investigative projects that create critical context around topics like slavery and racism that impact public policy. Well done, WaPo.
Save the date • If you have private insurance or a covered by a group health plan and purchase an FDA-approved over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic test, you’ll be able to be reimbursed by your insurance company starting Sat. Jan. 15. So you can go online or to a pharmacy or store, buy a test and either get it paid for upfront by your health plan or submit a claim without ordering a test from your health care provider.
The White House believes this approach is a better alternative to sending free tests to people who may not use them. But the administration, despite quadrupling the nation’s testing capacity since last year, has received criticism as the price of tests increases as Americans feel squeezed by the current Omicron surge.
A few things to know about the reimbursement program:
Insurance companies and health plans are required to cover eight free OTC at-home tests er covered individual per month (so a family of four on the same plan could get their money back for up to 32 tests).
There is no limit on the number of tests, including at-home tests, that are covered if ordered or administered by a health care provider following an individualized clinical assessment, including for those who may need them due to an underlying medical condition.
If your plan or insurer makes tests available for upfront coverage through preferred pharmacies or retailers, they are still required to reimburse tests purchased by consumers outside of that network, at a rate of up to $12 per individual test (or the cost of the test, if less than $12).
“Under President Biden’s leadership, we are requiring insurers and group health plans to make tests free for millions of Americans,” Health and Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp-up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost.” Read this doc for additional details on the requirements.
What about those 500 million tests? The White House said the first of the free half-billion tests the government is purchasing should arrive next week. All the contracts to manufacture the tests are expected to be awarded over the next two weeks. You’ll be able to request the tests online later this month from a website. There will also be a support hotline to troubleshoot any issues. This is a wildly ambitious undertaking and the administration is being deliberate with its rollout to avoid major mishaps.
Bronx fire update • New York City Mayor Eric Adams revised the number killed in the deadly Bronx apartment fire on Sunday to 17, including eight children. Adams also said that the door to the apartment where the fire started may have failed to close as it was supposed to, which allowed thick smoke to spread. Read the latest from NYT.
The White House said President Biden spoke to Adams yesterday to express his condolences and offer support. Officials said that the administration had not received a request for federal assistance but stood ready to support the city as it recovers.
Speak on it, Sheila: Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said in a Twitter thread that elected officials must find immediate solutions to prevent tragedies from high-rise fires from occurring. “Poor and low income people who are desperate for housing have to be protected!” Jackson Lee wrote. “Enough is enough.” Read the tweets.
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Today in Politics
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing before traveling to Atlanta. Biden and Vice President Harris will lay a wreath at the burial place of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King before visiting Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. Then the president and vice president will speak on voting rights on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University. The president will return to the White House this evening.
The House is in. Members will consider legislation on NASA and veterans’ issues.
The Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on cybersecurity.
The Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the security of the Capitol since the Jan. 6 attack.
The Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on how to ensure equitable delivery of disaster benefits to vulnerable communities and peoples
The Senate is in. Senators will vote on the confirmation of the nominee to serve as an Assistant Secretary of Commerce.
The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the federal COVID-19 response, focusing on addressing new variants.
The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the domestic terrorism threat one year after Jan. 6.
The Banking Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Jerome Powell to continue as chair of the Federal Reserve, the US banking authority that implements the country's monetary policy.
In The Know
Breakthrough cases increase the death risk in cancer patients: face higher death risk: “These findings come at a time of concerns that immune escape mutants such as the Omicron strain may emerge from chronically infected patients with weakened immune systems,” Dimitrios Farmakiotis, an associate professor of medicine at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School and a senior author of the study that reported the findings. The research similar high COVID-19 mortality rates among fully vaccinated individuals have been reported in other immunocompromised patient populations.
Biden spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed about the country’s ongoing conflict: “The two leaders discussed ways to accelerate dialogue toward a negotiated ceasefire, the urgency of improving humanitarian access across Ethiopia, and the need to address the human rights concerns of all affected Ethiopians, including concerns about detentions of Ethiopians under the state of emergency,” the White House said in a statement.
VP had an important call too: Vice President Harris spoke yesterday with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei to discuss human smuggling and the administration’s commitment to solving the root causes of migration and trafficking. The leaders also discussed economic development and anti-corruption.
The feds are spending more on facial rec: FBI and ICE signed recent contracts with Clearview AI, Trust Stamp and other companies with facial recognition technology despite the privacy concerns that come with it, Tonya Riley at Cyberscoop reports. “Instead, they’re plowing ahead with private partnerships with companies whose databases of photos of private citizens eclipse government databases in scale.”
Bernie calls out the Dems: Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who caucuses with the Democrats, said the party should hold votes on bills that include its legislative priorities to show Democrats are fighting for working-class people, Steven Greenhouse for The Guardian reports. “It is no great secret that the Republican party is winning more and more support from working people,” Sanders said. “It’s not because the Republican party has anything to say to them. It’s because in too many ways the Democratic party has turned its back on the working class.” This is likely to rankle White House officials and Senate Democratic leaders who believe their policies already focus on working people.
Tit for tat: House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said he would move to strip Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell of California, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Adam Schiff of California of their committee assignments if he becomes Speaker next year, Teaganne Finn at NBC News reports. The move would be retaliation for Democrats kicking Republican Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene off her committees in 2021 for posting conspiracy theories and harassing gun-control activists. “The Democrats have created a new thing where they’re picking and choosing who could be on the committee,” McCarthy, who represents the most Republican district in California, said in an interview with the conservative publication Breitbart. “Never in the history have you had the majority tell the minority who could be on committee.” Committees give lawmakers significant influence in shaping legislation before it goes to a final full vote in the House or Senate.
Hassan has a new challenger: New Hampshire State Senate President Chuck Morse announced his candidacy for the US Senate to challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, the moderate lawmaker who was elected in 2016. Cook Political Report currently rates the seat as a competitive race but gives Democrats an advantage. Read John DiStaso’s report at WMUR Manchester for the deets on Morse’s announcement.
If at first you don’t succeed: Former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken announced he’ll run for Congress again in North Carolina, John Wagner at WaPo reports. Aiken won the Democratic primary in the state’s 2nd District in 2014 but lost convincingly in the general election to the Republican incumbent. Aiken said that he would advocate “inclusion, income equality, free access to quality health care and combating climate change” if elected to represent North Carolina’s redrawn 6th District.
It’s getting hot in here: The US saw its 4th-warmest year on record, fueled by a record-warm Dec., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We also experienced 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that killed 688 people last year, which ranks as the second-highest number of disasters recorded in a calendar year behind the record 22 separate billion-dollar events in 2020. Environmental activists point to these numbers to argue that it’s less expensive to invest in climate resilience rather than pouring money into recovery efforts.
VA’s gov. declares state of emergency: Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia announced an emergency order to boost hospital capacity and support overwhelmed health care workers in the aftermath of the state’s highest daily COVID-19 admissions last week, Justin Coleman at The Hill reports. The order is set to last 30 days but Northam is only in office for a few more days. Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin is expected to keep the order in place.
Cali proposes $20K per student: California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $102 billion education budget proposal would invest $20,000 per student in state funding, Jill Tucker at The Los Angeles Times reports. The additional funding is designed to help districts survive the ongoing pandemic. “Your kids deserve what every fancy family gets, which is those extra supports,” Newsom said on Monday. “You deserve that especially with all the social emotional damage that’s been done. ... Fancy families can afford those summer enrichment programs, but a lot of folks who are living paycheck to paycheck can’t.” Federal, state, and local governments invest $14,484 — a little over $500 less than California under Newsom’s proposal, per pupil to fund K-12 public education, according to Education Data.
Back to school: The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates approved a proposal late last night to end remote work action and resume in-person teaching on Wednesday, Gregory Pratt at Chicago Tribune reports. The agreement ends an almost-week-long standoff with Chicago Public Schools over inadequate COVID-19 safety measures.
Another day, another anti-union campaign: Google had a secret project to convince employees that unions suck” between late 2018 and early 2020, Lauren Kaori Gurley at Vice reports. The campaign, codenamed Project Vivian, was designed to combat employee activism and union organizing efforts at the company. A judge has ruled for Google to immediately produce internal documentation related to the project but the company has refused to do so, citing attorney-client privilege.
Elite schools face claims of colluding on financial aid: Sixteen major US. universities, including Yale University, Georgetown University and Northwestern University, are being sued for alleged antitrust violations because of the way they work together to determine financial-aid awards for students, Melissa Korn at The Wall Street Journal reports. The universities engaged in price-fixing and unfairly limited aid by using a shared methodology to calculate applicants’ financial need, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of five former students who attended some of the schools. Schools can collaborate on their formulas, but only if they don’t consider applicants’ financial need in admissions decisions.
Symone’s next act: Symone Sanders, former chief spokesperson for Vice President Harris, joined MSNBC as an anchor and will host a new weekend program on the cable channel, Michael M. Grynbaum at NYT reports. The format, title and time slot of her MSNBC program, which will air on Saturdays and Sundays starting in the spring, are to be determined. Sanders left the White House last month and served as an adviser on President Biden’s campaign in 2020.
Read All About It
Clay Skipper in conversation with Mark Epstein on meditation:
If you take on a meditation practice, where you're just trying to sit with your own mind for 20 or 30 minutes or, or however long, you can see how impossible it is to control anything within your own mind. [laughs] We control so much of our lives and it's a blessing that we're able to control as much as we can. But what meditation does show you is there still an element that is always going to be out of our control. We can resist that, or we can learn how to roll with that. In learning how to roll with it, we are practicing dealing with stuff like Covid, where you really don't know what's going to happen in the next moment. You really don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. You really don't know what twists and turns your mind, your life, and the world is going to take. You have to be able to work with it as it unfolds, and that's what meditation is teaching you. Meditation is training in dealing with uncertainty.
Melody Schreiber on Omicron:
The notion that omicron is “mild” might be masking another troubling phenomenon: that omicron is in fact attacking the body in a different, subtler way—one that could still result in very severe outcomes. “It’s making people really sick in a different way,” Dr. Craig Spencer, an emergency physician in New York, tweeted recently, with omicron seeming to “topple a delicate balance of an underlying illness.” Covid, in other words, could be tipping fragile patients with chronic illness, like heart disease or diabetes, into distress, said Dr. Michael Warner, a physician in Toronto—with the result that many hospitalizations may still be driven by Covid, even if it’s not the primary diagnosis.
Kristen Hartke on Chinatowns:
With the history of Chinatown neighborhoods across the United States directly connected to racist politics of the 19th century that barred Asian immigrants from citizenship and owning property as well as enforced residence in designated areas, issues of exclusion are indelibly imprinted upon these communities. The effect of covid-19 has made Chinatowns, already dependent on foot traffic and tourism even while trying to preserve traditions dating back thousands of years, more fragile than ever.
Sarah Green Carmichael on sabbaticals:
Alluring as sabbaticals may be, what we know about burnout suggests that time off isn’t the best way to deal with it. Sabbaticals — like on-site gyms, egg-freezing and napping pods — may be a well-intentioned benefit that subtly underlines just how much the company expects to extract from staff. “You won’t have time to work out, have kids or sleep, so here are some amenities to help with that,” such perks seem to say. “Oh and when you collapse from exhaustion, we’ll give you a sabbatical.”
Michelle Celarier on DC’s insider trading problem:
The relatively few successful prosecutions of insider trading — think Martha Stewart or hedge-fund manager Raj Rajaratnam — tend to involve emails or phone calls and cooperating witnesses who can show not only the nonpublic information but also how it was used to trade. And here’s where members of Congress get a break no one else has: The “speech and debate” clause of the Constitution protects communications among members of Congress from snooping by outsiders, whether the executive branch or law enforcement.
“It makes it very difficult for the SEC, prosecutors, or anyone else to investigate members of Congress as only members of Congress can launch an investigation if it involves getting into their internal emails and communications,” says [former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, Richard] Painter. He argues that self-regulation by Congress is inadequate to the task. Not only are members often reluctant to go after their peers, he says, they also aren’t adept at ferreting out illegal trading, as SEC and DOJ prosecutors are trained to do.
The push to work no matter what is as much a result of toxic kitchen culture as it is about the economic reality of working in an industry where some of the workforce still earns the federal subminimum wage, $2.13, which hasn’t changed since 1991. Some cities and states have a higher tipped minimum wage, including New York City, where it is $10 an hour for food-service workers. Americans have an unhealthy relationship with work generally, but the people who bear the brunt of that are the working class and people of color, and those employed in blue-collar industries like food service.
And employees say they often feel like they have no choice, because if they don’t work, they don’t make money, and they can’t afford the time away. According to a report by the nonprofit worker center ROC United, the poverty rate among restaurant workers is 16.6 percent, compared to 6.6 percent of the workforce overall. While New York is one state where employers are required to offer paid sick leave, the law does not require employers to pay out lost tips, and workers say the policy is often not discussed.
David Ingram on local politics as a side hustle for San Francisco tech workers:
More tech industry employees, founders and investors who used to shrug off local politics have taken a sudden and fierce interest in San Francisco government in a way that could both remake the city and have national reverberations. ****Many of these new entrants to local politics consider themselves left-leaning even as they target some of the state’s most high-profile liberals over issues from crime and schools to housing shortages and small-business regulation.
Hanif Abdurraqib on the second coming of Stephen Curry:
Despite being one of the game's greatest superstars, Curry remains something of an outlier in today's NBA, situated largely outside the fraternity of stars that operate with a public off-court kinship. That's partly due to the aforementioned underdog status that defined his youth and college career. He didn't play on the high-profile AAU teams or build up the kind of relationships and rivalries that can define players before they even enter the league. This hasn't prevented Curry from forming certain narratives with his competitors, of course. His prolonged contest with LeBron James is now one of the great sports duels of our era, one that added yet another chapter late last season, when James hit a three-pointer over Curry's outstretched arms in the dwindling moments of the play-in game that would send the Lakers into the playoffs.
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