HCR: On covid, Biden’s relief bill and news on Trump insurrection

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | March 5

Heather Cox Richardson

In coronavirus news today, there were a record 2.4 million vaccines administered.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) is denying any involvement in a vaccine drive in a private, gated community after which a resident of the community, former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R), made a donation of $250,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis Political Action Committee. This appears to be part of a pattern in Florida, where vaccine administration seems to track with wealthy communities whose members donate to the governor’s campaign funds.

News about the January 6 insurrection continues to mount, with a mid-level Trump appointee from the State Department, Federico Klein, arrested yesterday on several felony charges, including assaulting police officers, stemming from the riot. Tonight the New York Times revealed that a member of the far-right Proud Boys organization was in contact with someone at the White House in the days before the insurrection.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has catalogued almost 2000 pages of public social media posts from those representatives who voted to overturn the election. The material reveals that a few representatives were active indeed in pushing the idea that the election was stolen and Trump supporters must fight. Especially active were Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Billy Long (R-MO) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is slow-walking the confirmation of Merrick Garland as attorney general, an odd stance at a time when one would think we would want all hands on deck to investigate the insurrection and ongoing domestic terrorism

The Senate continues to hash out the American Rescue Plan. After last night’s 10 hour and 44 minute reading of the bill by Senate clerks, demanded by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), there was a surprise when Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) requested that the debate on the bill resume at 9:00 this morning and be limited to three hours, rather than the 20 hours that had been planned. Since no Republicans were there to object, the presiding officer agreed, and voting on amendments started at noon.  

The big deal today was that Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) balked at what observers thought was a done deal, withdrawing his support from the measure’s $400 weekly unemployment. Shortly before 8:00 p.m., Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reached a deal to extend $300 payments through September 6, making the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits nontaxable for those households whose income is less than $150,000.

Manchin’s position has raised fury on the part of Democrats who are already mad at the loss of the $15 minimum wage in the bill, and there are grumblings that Manchin should not have the power to water the measure down.

But Manchin is as powerful as he is only because the Senate is split 50-50, and the Republicans– who represent 41.5 million fewer Americans than Democrats do– are refusing to vote for the measure at all, despite the fact that 77% of Americans want it. We have a structural problem both with the Senate and with the Republican Party.

The Democrats continue to believe they will pass the American Rescue Plan.

The popularity of that bill spells trouble for Republicans. President Biden is making a pitch for Americans who feel that the government has not responded to the needs of a falling middle class. The bill expands the earned income tax credit for all Americans, and almost doubles the child tax credit. These provisions will disproportionately help poor families, especially families of color. The measure is expected to cut child poverty in half, while also helping parents to work by helping them pay for childcare.

Meanwhile, there is another big event on the horizon in Alabama that suggests a seismic shift in the contours of our political parties.

Workers at an Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to unionize. Amazon opposes the move, which, since Amazon employs more than 400,000 warehouse and delivery workers, is shaping up to be the biggest fight over unionization in American history. The company warns that unionization might increase costs and slow growth, and it has flooded its workers with mandatory anti-union meetings and anti-union literature—even posting signs in bathroom stalls. While workers have complained about working conditions and mandatory overtime, the company points out that it offers Bessemer workers benefits and a starting pay of $15.30 an hour, while the federal minimum wage remains pegged at $7.25.

The reason this unionization effort jumps off the page for politics is that President Biden recorded a video on February 28 taking a strong pro-union stance. He reminded viewers that “America wasn’t built by Wall Street, it was built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class. Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, and especially Black and Brown workers.“

Biden made it clear that the choice to unionize should be made by workers, without pressure from employers. “The choice to join a union is up to the workers—full stop.” Biden has also nominated Boston mayor Marty Walsh, the former president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, as secretary of labor. If confirmed, Walsh will be the first union member to serve as secretary of labor in nearly 50 years. Biden’s vocal defense of working Americans has the potential to rally struggling workers to the Democrats more firmly than they have rallied for decades.

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