Inside the Beltway
Welcome to your exclusive briefing on to expect in the world of politics this week, with a quick glance at everything we will be monitoring here at SHERO.
US Nears 500,000 Covid Deaths
Johns Hopkins University estimates that approximately 498,000 lives have been lost a year into the pandemic. This is roughly the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and just shy of the size of Atlanta. The number of Covid deaths now surpasses the total of people who died in 2019 of chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, flu and pneumonia combined.
“It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on Sunday.
President Biden will marking the tragic milestone with a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony at the White House on Monday at sunset — he will deliver remarks to honor the dead. He will be joined by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff.
The Biden administration will likely reach the initial goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses in the first 100 days in office, but now there is an increased push to vaccinate all eligible adults against the coronavirus by the end of the summer. Limited supply of the two approved vaccines, by Pfizer and Moderna, had slightly slowed the vaccination pace before the extreme winter weather hit last week, further delaying the delivery of about 6 million doses.
A third approved vaccine in the US is expected in the next few weeks, and the one-shot dose could help the country break through and surpass vaccine rate predictions.
Texas in Crisis
More than 35 people in Texas have been confirmed dead following a week of severe winter storm freezes and that number is expected to rise as roads are cleared and relatives and first responders being to check on the missing.
Hospitals across the South have struggled with water shortages and scrambled to care for patients amid record cold temperatures, snow and ice that battered parts of the country accustomed to warmer weather. Texas is dealing with ruptured water mains, knocked out power to millions and exorbitant utility bills that customers are unable to pay.
The state now faces scrutiny over the failure to handle the emergency in light of it being the nation’s biggest energy producer and home to several of the world’s biggest energy companies.
Texas leaders are under fire for the disaster this week resulting from decades of opposition to more regulations and preparation. The state of Texas operates as a lone island within the sea of the US electrical system. There is one large grid for the Eastern half of the country, and another for the West — Texas is wedged between them.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) is under further attack for traveling to Cancun while his constituents suffered through a deadly winter storm that left hundreds of thousands without power and running water. This now poses a “scandal durability” question for the ramshackle Republican Party, as many speculate about whether voters will remember the egregiousness of Cruz’s actions when his re-election bid is still three years off.
Big Week on the Hill
Congress comes back from recess this week and President Biden’s new legislative agenda is about to be tested in the next few weeks, which will be crucial for Democrats.
The $1.9-trillion Covid relief package will go to the House floor this week and Speaker Pelosi will need to do everything in her power to move it through the chamber quickly and to a full House vote, which will likely occur on Saturday.Pelosi only has a five-seat cushion, meaning that if she loses six Democrats who don’t agree with the deal, there could be a problem.
If Democrats can get just one Republican to vote in favor of this Covid relief package, they will be able to make the claim that it passed with bi-partisan support. This would be disastrous for House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), so expect their caucus close and in line.
Minimum wage is the hot topic this week. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) issued a statement on Saturday saying he was “confident” that Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough would determine that raising minimum wage is permissible in a reconciliation package. Considering that she has previously found in favor of similar Republican moves, this appears to be an effort to exert public pressure to ramp up the pressure on MacDonough directly.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) faces obstacles with opposition from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who adamantly oppose raising the minimum wage and just one “no” vote sinks the bill for Democrats in the Senate.
Pressure will be on Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to hold his caucus together in voting “no” on covid relief. Just one GOP member defecting to vote with Democrats would mean the unthinkable for Republicans — Pelosi could say the bill had passed with “bi-partisan support.”
Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) is expected to play a large role in keeping people in line as well. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will have a very easy time keeping his team in line to vote against the relief bill, meaning this vote in the Senate on covid relief will be another squeaker.
Expect the pace to pick up substantially on President Biden’s Cabinet confirmations — the current administration only has a fraction of nominees in place compared to Trump, Obama and George W. Bush one month into their presidencies.
Merrick Garland will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday and controversial nominee for Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, will go before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. Biden nominee for Heath and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, will testify on Tuesday and Wednesday. Biden’s CIA and US Trade rep nominees will also have hearings this week.
The Senate will hold a cloture vote (nominees who’ve already been approved in committee but need full Senate approval) for Linda Thomas-Greenfield as US Ambassador to the United Nations and Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. More Cabinet nominees are expected to reach the Senate floor for a cloture vote this week, and several are waiting in the wings as the process picks up the pace.
Trump at CPAC
Trump is expected to make his first major appearance since leaving the White House by speaking at CPAC on Sunday. He will address the conservative group as keynote of sorts, on the final day of the three-day event, which will run from February 25 to 28.
"He'll be talking about the future of the Republican party and the conservative movement," a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. The insider also explained that Trump is expected to take on Biden’s amnesty and border policies in an attempt to spin them as “disastrous.”
Since leaving the White House, Trump is said to be “unreachable” and has rejected meetings with several prominent Republicans; but this is about to change. He is preparing to combine his two roles of reality TV star with former president and will begins to audition people to avenge him against the Republican Party — by ensuring every open GOP seat in the 2022 midterms has a MAGA-approved contender vying for it.
Look for Sunday to be the day that Trump not only returns to the scene, but launches his renewed strike against anyone who opposes him, which now includes several old guard Republicans and is a battle we can expect go on for the next few years.
Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.
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