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KBJ notches her first GOP vote
Plus: The White House launches a new COVID “one-stop shop” and Vice President Harris announces new reforms to increase access to capital for small businesses.
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Good Wednesday afternoon and welcome to Supercreator PM, a midday update for premium subscribers on the top stories from this morning’s news cycle.
First Things First
Two quick AM headlines:
— President Joe Biden this morning spoke with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine this morning about the US government’s intention to provide Ukraine with $500 in direct budgetary aid. The leaders also reviewed the sanctions and humanitarian assistance the US announced last week. Zelenskyy also updated Biden on the status of the peace talks with Russia. The conversation lasted nearly an hour.
— Biden this afternoon will get his second COVID-19 booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine from a member of the White House Medical Unit. ICYMI, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized a second COVID-19 booster for people age 50 and older and certain immunocompromised individuals.
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The White House got some good news from an unlikely source: Republican Sen. Susan Collins announced her intention to vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.
The senator’s vote will give President Biden a bipartisan confirmation on his first nomination to the nation’s highest court and avoid the need for Vice President Kamala Harris to cast an unprecedented tie-breaking vote.
“I have concluded that she possesses the experience, qualifications and integrity to serve as an associate justice on the Supreme Court,” Collins said in a statement. “I will therefore vote to confirm her to this position.”
Carl Hulse at The New York Times was first to report the news of Sen. Collins’s decision. Spokespeople for the White House and Senate Judiciary Committee did not respond to a request for comment. White House Chief of Staff did tweeted his gratitude though:
Jackson, who will be the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court, met with Collins for the second time on Tuesday to clarify some of the judge’s responses to 23 hours of often-grueling questions over two days last week from Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“In my meetings with Judge Jackson, we discussed in depth several issues that were raised in her hearing. Sometimes I agreed with her; sometimes I did not,” Collins, the most moderate Senate Republican, said in the statement. “And just as I have disagreed with some of her decisions to date, I have no doubt that if Judge Jackson is confirmed, I will not agree with every vote she casts as a justice.”
Collins added: “That alone, however, is not disqualifying.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday will vote to advance Jackson’s nomination to the full Senate. Barring the unexpected — a Senate Democrat contracting COVID-19 or a catastrophic turn of events in Ukraine, for example — Jackson will receive a final vote next Friday.
If confirmed, Jackson will be sworn in later this summer after her mentor Justice Stephen Breyer retires from the bench after nearly three decades.
Collins attracts considerable attention during the confirmation process as a politician who demonstrates a deliberative demeanor on controversial nominations only to buck the wishes either party with her vote.
she voted in 2018 to confirm then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh despite credible allegations of sexual assault from a former high school classmate. (Kavanaugh aggressively denied the claims during his confirmation hearings.)
Aside from the assault allegations, Kavanaugh is also seen as hostile toward Roe v. Wade, the 49-year-old Supreme Court decision that ruled the right to abortion is protected by the US Constitution.
“What Judge Kavanaugh told me — and he’s the first Supreme Court nominee that I’ve interviewed, out of six, who has told me this — is that he views precedent not just as a legal doctrine, but as rooted in our constitution,” Collins said to Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes at the time.
Two years later, Collins voted against Justice Amy Coney Barrett, to the chagrin of the Republican Party, because the vote occurred prior to the 2020 presidential election. (Four years earlier, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell broke norms when he refused to allow a hearing or hold a vote for Attorney General Merrick Garland because it was too close to the 2016 election.)
It’s unclear if any other Senate Republicans will join Collins in supporting Jackson. At least three members on the Judiciary Committee have ambitions for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. And other members seem intent on opposing Jackson for reasons outside of her control.
The White House still hopes that the historic nature of the nomination will persuade retiring senators to vote for confirmation since they won’t have to endure any subsequent backlash in a future election.
Doing so, from Collins’s perspective, would return the institution back to a time when senators — regardless of political party — gave considerable deference to the president in the choice of a nominee.
“This approach served the Senate, the [Supreme] Court and the country well. It instilled confidence in the independence and the integrity of the judiciary and helped keep the court above the political fray,” Collins said in her statement. “And this is the approach that I plan to continue to use for Supreme Court nominations because it runs counter to the disturbing trend of politicizing the judicial nomination process.”
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President Biden this afternoon will announce the launch of COVID.gov, what his administration describes as a one-stop website to help Americans find vaccines, tests, treatments and masks, along with the latest updates on COVID-19 in their area.
He is also expected to declare that the country is in a new moment in the pandemic as the US moves forward and people return to their normal routines.
The White House says the website is possible because of its work over the past 14 months to set up over 90,000 vaccination sites, provide more than 400 million masks, send free tests to peoples’ homes and open new test-to-treat sites where you can get tested and receive life-saving antivirals in one place.
But administration officials point to the predictability of the virus as a reason to stay vigilant.
And it’s been sounding the alarm for months that the nation’s progress could be halted if Congress fails to offer free shots, masks and treatments, fund Biden’s efforts to prepare for future variants or pay for a variant-specific vaccine if we ever need it.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said this morning that talks with Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the Republican’s lead negotiator, to reach a deal are ongoing.
Republicans want details on what the White House actually needs to replenish its medicine cabinet and have maintained that every dollar of additional funding paid for — even if it means taking money from states that were allocated from the previous COVID relief bill. (This is why $15 billion for COVID preparedness was dropped from the comprehensive government funding bill earlier this month.)
The administration said it has already had to stop reimbursing health care providers for treating uninsured people and pull the US out of line for future vaccine and next-generation treatment purchases. It also has canceled orders for monoclonal antibodies — the therapies act as substitute antibodies that can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system's attack on cells. Fewer immunocompromised people will have access to treatments as well. This funding gap has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and individuals with disabilities.
“The bottom line is this: Both sides should come to an agreement for more funding as quickly as possible because that will mean more vaccines, more therapeutics, and more testing so we can keep schools and communities open,” Schumer said. “And when and if a new variant hits, we can stay as ‘normal’ as possible.”
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Vice President Harris returned to her alma mater Howard University this morning to promote a new initiative to deepen the administration’s support of small businesses.
During the visit, she announced reforms to Small Business Administration’s Community Advantage (CA) loan program, which prioritizes equitable access to capital for low-income borrowers and those from underserved communities. She also endorsed a $4.7 billion pledge by the Greater Washington Partnership toward minority-owned businesses based in and around the capital region.
“I believe America as a nation is driven by the ambition and aspirations of her people,” Harris said. “Our economy is therefore driven by the ambition and aspiration of our small businesses.”
A White House official said Harris’s first external meeting after taking office was with small business owners.
Then she worked with President Biden to implement the Payment Protection Program, which funded $659 billion in forgivable loans that helped businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis. (Black-owned businesses received loans through the PPP that were approximately 50 percent lower than white-owned businesses with similar characteristics, according to one nationwide study.) Additionally, the vice president prioritized relief for small businesses in the American Rescue Plan.
Harris was joined by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Small Business Administrator Isabel Guzman.
“If we’re really going to unlock the full potential of our economy, then we have to be committed to equity,” Raimondo said. “But I’m sorry to say: We’re not doing a great job. The typical white family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family. That’s not equity.”
Guzman expressed excitement to make the initiative a success and reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to closing the digital divide, an often-overlooked barrier to entry for prospective entrepreneurs.
“It’s amazing how many people don’t have access to high-speed broadband. 30 percent of people in rural America, 50 percent of people on tribal lands don’t have broadband,” she said. “We’re going to fix that.”
The Community Advantage pilot program was set to end this September, but it has extended until 2024. And the SBA increased the maximum loan size from $350,000 to $250,000, while expanding the number of lenders who can access them. (The program increased the amount of the maximum unsecured loan size from $25,000 to $50,000 and simplified the requirements for borrowers and lenders so underserved borrowers face fewer barriers to capital.) The program will no longer restrict individuals with criminal backgrounds from receiving resources.
Black people represent 14.2 percent of the country’s population, just 2.3 percent of all businesses with more than one employee were Black-owned, according to the 2021 Small Business Credit Survey. And more than half of all Black small-business owners were most likely to experience difficulty accessing credit.
77 percent of Black-owned and 79 percent of Asian-owned businesses reported that their financial condition was poor or fair. (54 percent of white-owned businesses reported similar conditions.) Also terrible: Almost 75 percent of Black and Asian American-owned business reported difficulties paying their operating expenses, compared to 63 percent of white-owned businesses.
These are the systemic barriers Harris says the administration is focused on dismantling, while reiterating the White House’s belief that the success of our overall economy depends on the success of the nation’s small businesses.
“When small business owners have the support they need, they create jobs.”
In the Know
The Justice Department is investigating if Google illegally bundles its Maps product with other Google software to stifle competition. Google said it welcomes the inquiry and claims the integrations provide the best user experience. (Diane Bartz and Paresh Dave / Reuters)
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed 12 US attorneys to serve on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee. The committee was created in 1973 and advises the attorney general on matters of policy, procedure, and management impacting the offices of the US attorneys and elevates the voices of US attorneys in department policies. The committee’s first meeting will take place later this spring.
The office availability rate in New York reached 19 percent in the first quarter, the highest in data going back to 2000. The surplus is a result of workers being slow to return to their desks and companies re-evaluate their real estate needs after an extended period of remote work. (Natalie Wong / Bloomberg)
Facebook parent company Meta paid Targeted Victory, a major Republican consulting firm, to broadcast messages calling TikTok a threat to American children. “We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success,” spokesperson Andy Stone said. (Taylor Lorenz and Drew Harrell / WaPo)
50 percent of small businesses say Amazon’s marketplace dominance is an “extremely significant” challenge, according to a new survey. Three in four of those respondents said they didn’t think Amazon’s algorithms are neutral and suspect them of favoring Amazon’s products over third-party sellers. 55 percent said they wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking out on concerns about Amazon’s treatment of sellers. (Margaret Harding McGill / Axios)
Google introduced a new Calendar feature that generates a webpage of available time slots for people to book appointments. You’ll need at least a “Business Standard” Google Workspace account, but it may be worth is if you find yourself spending a lot of time on the annoying back-and-forth of scheduling calls and meetings. The feature should roll out to everyone by April 9. (Ron Amadeo / Ars Technica)
One in three Netflix subscribers say they share their passwords. Earlier this month, the company announced it will launch a test requiring primary account holders to pay an additional fee for users outside their household as part of a crackdown against violations of their terms of service. (Dade Hayes / Deadline)
President Biden will speak on his administration’s new COVID plan at 1:30 PM ET. Watch the livestream
The Senate and House will receive separate classified briefing on Ukraine at 3 PM and 4:45 PM ET.
Read All About It
Timothy Noah on Biden’s proposal for tax reforms:
Biden’s own timidity is reflected in his pledge not to raise taxes on anybody earning less than $400,000. The Democrats have been pampering the haute bourgeoisie in this fashion for more than a decade, with the protected class growing ever richer. President Barack Obama pledged not to raise taxes on anybody earning less than $250,000; now the magic number is $400,000. The notion that anybody today earning less than $400,000 (or even $250,000) can’t afford to pay higher taxes is patently absurd. Richard Reeves, a British-American senior fellow at Brookings, says mass denial by the affluent of their economic circumstances is the most baffling phenomenon he’s encountered in his adopted home. “If you’re upper middle class, and you’re comfortably making six figures as a household,” he told me, “then when we talk about the need to raise taxes on people who can afford it, we mean you.” But that’s a hard sell even to liberal Democrats.
Luke Winkie on microdosing:
What the government once considered contraband is being claimed by wellness culture, one tiny dose at a time; together, we’re manifesting a new definition of sobriety. Perhaps a daily sprinkle of psilocybin will be another part of a healthy subsistence, packed neatly into medicine cabinets alongside the fish oil and multivitamins. After all, the chaos of the last few years has left so many Americans with a singular priority: to be calmer and happier, by any means possible.