Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | March 5
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
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | March 3
We’re in this weird eddy where Republicans are trying to cling to past politics to gain advantage and the Biden administration is trying to move forward. On top of this struggle are stories about how the previous administration pushed the boundaries of our laws or, worse, broke them.
Yesterday, two Republican governors, Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi, ended the mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions for their states. So far today, the Johns Hopkins University tracker has reported 88,611 new cases and 2,189 new deaths. The numbers are dropping, but they are still wildly high compared to other nations. Texas and Mississippi are both in the top ten states in terms of deaths per capita.
It is hard not to see the reopening of Republican-led states as a deliberate affront to President Joe Biden, who asked for a 100-day mask mandate and who has sped up vaccine production to end the pandemic before new variants throw us back into a crisis. The Biden administration has tried to take politics out of the national response to the coronavirus, and made it a point to respond quickly to the crisis in Texas two weeks ago, when the unregulated Texas energy system froze. Health officials worry that a rush to reopen will undo all the progress we have made against the virus, and they are begging Texas and Mississippi to reconsider.
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | February 28
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill requested by the Biden administration. The vote was 219 to 212, with two Democrats—Jared Golden (D-ME) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR)—voting no. Not a single Republican voted for the bill.
The coronavirus relief bill illustrates a crisis in our democracy.
This measure is enormously popular. On Thursday, the day before the House took up the bill, a poll by Morning Consult/Politico showed that 76% of Americans liked the measure, including 60% of Republicans. It includes $1400 stimulus checks which, together with the $600 checks in the previous package, get us to the $2000 checks that former president Trump, a Republican, demanded.
It includes increased unemployment benefits of $400 weekly, provides $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, establishes tax credits for children, provides money to reopen schools, funds $8.5 billion to distribute vaccines, and gives small business relief.
The bill is popular among Republican mayors and governors, whose governments cannot borrow to make up for tax revenue lost because of the pandemic and who are facing deficits of $80 to $100 billion even with money from the last relief packages. The deficits will require devastating cuts on top of the 1.3 million jobs that have already been cut in the past year. Relief is “not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue,” Fresno, California, mayor Jerry Dyer told Griff Witte of the Washington Post earlier this month. “It’s a public health issue. It’s an economic issue. And it’s a public safety issue.”
Those in favor of the measure note that while there is still close to $1 trillion unspent from previous coronavirus relief bills, currently unspent money has been assigned already: it is distributed among programs that are designed to spend it over a period of time. This includes federal employment benefits, which are distributed weekly; the Paycheck Protection Program, which is held in reserve for employers to apply for funds from it; enhanced medical matching funds to be distributed as the pandemic requires; and tax breaks to be spent as people file their tax returns.
The chair of the Federal Reserve, which oversees our banking system, Jerome H. Powell, has backed the idea of increased federal spending; so has Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Powell was nominated to his current position by Trump (he was nominated to the Federal Reserve Board by President Barack Obama); Yellen is a Biden appointee.
This is a bill that should have gotten some Republican votes in the House of Representatives.
But it didn’t. Republican lawmakers are complaining about the partisan vote and scoffing that President Biden promised to unify the country. But the problem is not the bill. The problem is the Republican lawmakers, who are determined to oppose anything the Democrats propose.
The American Rescue Plan bill now goes to the Senate, where Republican senators appear to be united against it. In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) complained about the Democrats’ “deliberately partisan process” in writing the bill, but the Republicans willing to meet with President Biden—McConnell was not one of them– proposed a measure that provided less than one-third the relief in the present bill. There is enormous urgency to passing the bill quickly, since current federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14.
The Senate is evenly split between the Democrats and the Republicans, with each party holding 50 seats (technically, Senators Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are Independents, but they currently work with the Democrats). Although each party effectively holds 50 seats, the Democrats represent 41.5 million more Americans than the Republicans do, in nation that has 328.2 million people.
In addition to their disproportionate power in the Senate, the Republicans can stop legislation through the filibuster. This is a holdover from an earlier era, in which a senator could stop a bill approved by a majority by refusing to stop talking about it, which would prevent the bill from coming to a vote unless senators voted to invoke “cloture,” a process that limits consideration of a pending bill to 30 additional hours. Today, cloture requires 60 votes.
The filibuster was rarely used before about 1960; in the early twentieth century, southern senators used it primarily to stop civil rights legislation. But as the volume of business in the Senate raised the need to streamline debate, the Senate reformed the filibuster so that a senator could simply threaten a filibuster to kill a bill.
Our current Republican lawmakers use these “holds” to kill any measure that cannot muster 60 votes, effectively turning the Senate into a body that requires not a majority to pass legislation, but rather a supermajority. Those who defend the filibuster argue that this supermajority requirement will make senators create bills that are bipartisan, but in fact it has meant that a small minority controls the Senate.
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | February 22
Today the United States passed the heartbreaking marker of 500,000 official deaths from COVID-19. President Biden held a ceremony tonight to remember those lost, saying “On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind. We, as a Nation, must remember them so we can begin to heal, to unite, and find purpose as one Nation to defeat this pandemic.” The South Portico of the White House was illuminated with 500 candles—one for every thousand lives lost—and the president will order flags on federal property lowered to half staff for five days in their memory.
And yet, there is good news on the horizon: By the end of March, Pfizer plans to ship more than 13 million vaccine doses per week to the United States; Moderna plans to deliver 100 million doses; and Johnson & Johnson expects to ship at least 20 million doses. This means that by the end of March, the United States is on track to receive 240 million doses. By mid-year, we should receive about 700 million doses, which is enough to vaccinate our entire population. By the end of the year there should be 2 billion doses for the whole world.
Sixty-seven percent of Americans, including 34% of Republicans, approve of Biden’s response to the coronavirus.
Aside from the pandemic news, there were two important developments today on the national level: a series of Supreme Court decisions and Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearings for the position of attorney general. Together, these showed quite strikingly that Trump supporters are retreating into a politics of grievance while Democrats are embracing policy and governance.
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | February 21
On ABC’s This Week this morning, Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) refused to admit that Democrat Joe Biden had legitimately won the 2020 presidential election.
It’s hard to overestimate how dangerous this lie is. It convinces supporters of the former president that they are actually protecting American democracy when they fight to overturn it. Jessica Watkins is one of 9 members of the right-wing paramilitary group the Oath Keepers indicted for their actions on January 6. Yesterday, her lawyer told the court that Watkins behaved as she did because she believed that then-President Donald Trump would use the military to overturn what he falsely insisted was the rigged election.
“However misguided, her intentions were not in any way related to an intention to overthrow the government, but to support what she believed to be the lawful government. She took an oath to support the Constitution and had no intention of violating that oath….”