Senate to debate as Republicans attempt to derail $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill – live updates

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Senate’s debate on .9tn Covid relief hits delays over unemployment benefits – as it happened” was written by Gabrielle Canon (now), Joan E Greve and Martin Belam (earlier), for theguardian.com on Saturday 6th March 2021 01.19 UTC

1.14am GMT

Today so far

That’s it for me tonight! Thanks for reading along.

Here’s what happened over the last few hours:

  • The largest monthly number of migrants in roughly 15 years was detained at the US-Mexico border in February, as the Biden administration prepares to undo parts of his predecessor’s immigration policies.
  • Former state department aide, Federico Klein, was arrested and charged for his alleged participation in the 6 January pro-Trump attack on the US Capitol.
  • Herd immunity from Covid might be reached as early as this summer, if current trends continue. But health officials warn against going back to business as usual too quickly.
  • After a year of the Covid crisis, surveys show a staggering 40% of Americans are struggling financially.

Have a good night!

Updated at 1.19am GMT

1.12am GMT

Senate deal expected soon

As the Senate showdown continues into the night, CNN reports that a deal may be coming soon.

Senator Joe Manchin has reportedly accepted a final agreement on an amendment that will offer an additional 0 a week in unemployment benefits through 6 September.

That’s longer than the House’s version, which extended the extra funds into the end of August.

CNN reports:

This agreement also provides tax relief to workers who received unemployment insurance compensation by making the first ,200 of unemployment benefits non-taxable for the first time to prevent surprise bills for the unemployed at end of year, which was not in the House-passed legislation. This provision applies only to households with incomes under 0k.

Updated at 1.17am GMT

12.33am GMT

Senators are still stuck on relief bill

The senate remains at a standstill as Democratic lawmakers race to pass the .9tn Covid relief bill without any Republican support.

Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator, who signaled that he might side with Republicans on an amendment for unemployment benefits, has refused to comment on how he will vote. CNN reports that he’s left the Senate floor and is now inside the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer’s office.

Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, the lead sponsor on the amendment, reportedly told the Republican senator John Cornyn that negotiations were still slow-going.

“We’re stuck. And I don’t know what it’s going to take to get unstuck,” Carper said, according to CNN:

Carper refused to comment on where things stand, only telling CNN: “It’s gotta get done.”

The Carper amendment would codify a deal reached between the White House and Democratic leaders to extend jobless benefits at 0 a week through September. It would also ensure that the first ,200 of jobless benefits would not be taxed.

The competing Portman amendment only extends the unemployment benefits through 18 July, and they would be taxed.

Updated at 1.08am GMT

12.01am GMT

Now nearly a year into the Covid crisis, a staggering 40% of Americans report that the pandemic has had a lingering impact on their pocketbooks.

The surveys, reflected in new report released today by the Pew Research Center, are just the latest evidence that inequalities already existing in the US were only compounded by the crisis. Minorities and low-income earners were the hardest hit by job losses and instability over the past year.

Roughly 60% of white adults told researchers their financial situation was excellent or good, according to the report, while 66% of Black and 59% of Hispanic Americans said their finances were in poor or fair shape.

From Pew:

Lower-income adults, as well as Hispanic and Asian Americans and adults younger than 30, are among the most likely to say they or someone in their household has lost a job or taken a pay cut since the outbreak began in February 2020.1 Among those who’ve had these experiences, lower-income and Black adults are particularly likely to say they have taken on debt or put off paying their bills in order to cover lost wages or salary.”

Researchers also found that close of half of those who reported that their financial situation has worsened because of Covid don’t think they will get back to where they were for three years or more.

Updated at 12.12am GMT

11.41pm GMT

A new CNN analysis of federal data is projecting the US could reach herd immunity to Covid by summer – and maybe even sooner.

With the current pace of roughly 2 million shots going out each day, and an expected bump from the newly authorized single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, experts now estimate 70% of US residents will be fully vaccinated by the end of July. That may be enough to stop the spread.

With transmissions on the decline, several states have already begun rolling back restrictions. California announced today that theme parks and sports stadiums will be back in business (with limitations) as early as 1 April – right in time for some MLB teams to participate in Opening Day.

Arizona, Maine, and Connecticut also eased business and travel restrictions this week, and Texas and Mississippi shared plans to end mask mandates.

Heath officials have warned against rushing into going back to business as usual, though, cautioning legislators that they need to remain vigilant. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released today, states that policies allowing indoor restaurant dining were associated with increases in daily death rates up to 100 days after they were implemented. Mandated mask-wearing decreased Covid cases and deaths within 20 days.

Updated at 12.11am GMT

11.09pm GMT

Federico Klein, a former state department aide who worked under the Trump administration, has a cockroach problem: the creepy-crawly brown insects have apparently been making themselves at home the cell Klein’s been staying in, after he was charged for assaulting officers during the pro-Trump riot at the US Capitol on 6 January.

Klein, 42, is being held at a jail in Washington DC, facing six charges, including two that carry 20-year maximum sentences.

NBC News reports:

When told he would remain in custody until next week’s hearing, he said, “I’m wondering if there’s a place that I could stay in detention where I don’t have cockroaches crawling everywhere while I attempt to sleep. I haven’t slept very much.”

According to court documents, Klein was recorded on video shoving a riot shield into police officers and attempting to take gear from them as he pushed to gain entry into the Capitol. Klein, who was still a federal employee at the time and possessed a top secret security clearance, was hired by the state department in 2017 and worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Updated at 11.21pm GMT

10.38pm GMT

Roughly 100,000 migrants were detained at the US-Mexico border last month, Reuters reports, marking the highest number of arrests in the month of February in the last 15 years, and an increase of 22,000 from January.

Republicans have been critical of the Biden administration’s plans to roll back many of Trump’s immigration policies, and open more opportunities for migrants to enter the US. From Reuters:

Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, sent a letter to Biden on Friday that requested a meeting to discuss the issue, saying he had “great concern” with the Biden administration’s approach to border.

“We must acknowledge the border crisis, develop a plan, and, in no uncertain terms, strongly discourage individuals from Mexico and Central America from ever making the dangerous journey to our southern border,” McCarthy wrote in the letter.

Advocates are hoping the new president will not only take a softer stance on immigration than his predecessor, but also hold the former administration accountable for allegations of abuse and misconduct against Customs and Border Protection as they carried out those policies.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed 13 complaints against the agency, which is housed under the Department of Homeland Security, hoping to push officials to punish officers involved and enact reforms.

White House officials are also planning to visit the southern border in order to brief Biden, but details are scant on when that trip will take place.

As Martin Pengelly pointed out earlier today, Trump weighed in from Florida, calling the influx a “border nightmare”.

Updated at 11.20pm GMT

10.14pm GMT

Gabrielle Canon here, taking you through the remainder of Friday from the west coast! But before I do, here’s an update from my colleague Martin Pengelly:

Remember the great debate over derp? Ben Jacobs, once of this parish, does and he’s written a fine Medium piece about it, in light of the more than slightly ridiculous fuss this week over Joe Biden’s comment about Republicans and “neanderthal thinking” about mask mandates in the age of Covid.

Here’s the video of Joe saying it’s so:

And here’s some coverage of Republicans saying Joe should have said it ain’t so.

And here’s the start of Ben’s dissection of the whole sorry mess:

Out of the foggy mists of time, Neanderthals emerged this week. With them came the dim outlines of a world far distant from the present: the world of 2012.

Suddenly, it is the era of derp again. Derp was the defining complaint about politics in the early teens of the 21st century. With a relatively prosperous country and both parties nominating well-disciplined candidates who were clearly qualified for the Oval Office, the 24-hour cable news cycle needed to cover something. So we got “derp,” a word coined by the creators of South Park that became used to describe the unbearable stupidity of political fights happening for their own sake.

As Ben says, a prime example of derp circa 2012 sprung up over a joke Barack Obama made about Rutherford B Hayes. There are not many jokes about Rutherford B Hayes. There are not many jokes, about Rutherford B Hayes or otherwise, in this long Guardian report from 1877 about how he came to be president. But as I am nothing if not a history dad, I’m going to demand that you read it:

This is a slightly more sprightly telling, from last summer and by me, interviewing the great historian Eric Foner. When Donald Trump started trying to overturn the election, a lot of it came to ring rather true…

10.00pm GMT

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague Gabrielle Canon will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • The US economy added 379,000 jobs last month, according to the latest report from the labor department. The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 6.2%.
  • The Senate “vote-a-rama” on the coronavirus relief bill has been stalled for about six hours, amid a disagreement over unemployment benefits. Senate Democrats are trying to convince Joe Manchin to back a proposal from Tom Carper, which would lower the federal unemployment benefits from 0 a week to 0 a week but extend the benefits through the end of September (rather than the end of August). Manchin had been considering supporting a similar proposal from Republican Rob Portman, which would let the benefits end in July.
  • Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to an hour appears to have failed. The Senate vote on the proposal to add the minimum wage increase to the relief bill has stood at 42 to 58 for hours now. Democratic leaders are leaving the vote open as they negotiate with Manchin, but the minimum wage proposal will almost certainly be rejected, given that it needed 60 votes to pass.
  • Chuck Schumer pledged the Senate would stay in session until the coronavirus relief bill passes. “The Senate is going to take a lot of votes. But we are going to power through and finish this bill, however long it takes,” the Democratic majority leader said this morning. “The American people are counting on us and our nation depends on it.”

Gabrielle will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated at 10.04pm GMT

9.41pm GMT

The Senate is preparing for a long weekend, as Democrats try to pass Joe Biden’s .9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

Speaking to an NBC News reporter about the voting schedule, Republican Senator John Thune asked, “Did you bring your pillow?”

The vote-a-rama was already expected to go on for hours, given that Republicans have signaled they plan to introduce many amendments to force Democrats to take some difficult votes before the bill is passed.

And that was before the process stalled for more than five hours today, as Democrats try to hammer out an agreement on the federal unemployment benefits in the bill.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said earlier today, “The Senate is going to take a lot of votes. But we are going to power through and finish this bill, however long it takes.”

Updated at 9.53pm GMT

9.23pm GMT

According to Punchbowl News, Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican of Alaska, has had to leave Washington because of a family issue.

Sullivan’s absence from Washington means that Republicans will have one less vote as they try to advance amendments to the coronavirus relief bill.

But most Republican amendments were already expected to fail, and the proposals will still force Democrats to take difficult votes on issues like immigration and energy policy.

9.04pm GMT

Time-check: the Senate vote on Bernie Sanders’ minimum wage proposal has now been open for more than five hours.

The vote has stood at 42 to 58 for hours now, meaning the measure will almost certainly be rejected.

But Senate Democrats are keeping the vote open as they work to convince Joe Manchin to support Tom Carper’s proposal on the expanded unemployment benefits in the coronavirus relief bill.

Manchin had previously been considering supporting a proposal from Republican Senator Rob Portman, which would lower the federal unemployment benefit from 0 a week to 0 a week.

Walking by reporters on Capitol Hill moments ago, Portman said he was on the phone with Manchin to get a sense of whether the moderate Democrat was still planning to support his proposal.

8.45pm GMT

Joe Biden is now holding a roundtable discussion on his .9tn coronavirus relief bill at the White House.

Joe Biden participates in a roundtable discussion on his .9tn coronavirus aid bill.
Joe Biden participates in a roundtable discussion on his .9tn coronavirus aid bill.
Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters

The White House said of the event: “The president will participate in a roundtable with individuals who will benefit from receiving relief checks thanks to the American Rescue Plan. They will discuss how these relief checks will help relieve some of the hardship they have experienced due to Covid.”

The roundtable is being moderated by the senior White House adviser and former Democratic congressman Cedric Richmond.

Updated at 9.01pm GMT

8.29pm GMT

Progressive congresswoman Ilhan Omar criticized Senate Democrats for limiting the eligibility for the direct payments in the coronavirus relief bill.

In the version of the relief bill passed by the House, the checks completely phase out for individuals making 0,000 a year, but the Senate bill lowers that income threshold to ,000 a year.

Omar, a Democrat of Minnesota, noted that the change meant about 17 million fewer Americans would receive checks from this relief package, in comparison to the two rounds of payments that Donald Trump approved.

“We obviously are now ultimately sending money to less people than the Trump administration and the Senate-majority Republicans were willing to,” Omar said.

“This is not the promise that we made,” the congresswoman added. “So ultimately it is a failure when we compromise ourselves out of delivering on behalf of the American people and keeping our promises.”

8.06pm GMT

Senate vote-a-rama stalls over unemployment benefits

Here’s where things stand in the Senate: the vote-a-rama has now been stalled for more than three hours.

It appears Senate Democrats are keeping the vote on the minimum wage open to give themselves more time to negotiate a compromise over the expanded unemployment benefits in the relief bill.

Senator Tom Carper had proposed lowering the federal unemployment benefit from 0 a week to 0 a week, in exchange for extending the benefits until the end of September (rather than August) and making ,200 of unemployment benefits tax exempt.

But according to multiple reports, Senator Joe Manchin has signaled he may support a Republican proposal to lower the benefits to 0 a week without either of the other parts of Carper’s measure.

Negotiations over the issue continue, so stay tuned.

Updated at 9.12pm GMT

7.47pm GMT

Donald Trump was out earlier with another statement, issued from his Florida bolthole and about one of his favourite subjects: immigration.

“Our border is now totally out of control thanks to the disastrous leadership of Joe Biden,” began a former president well versed in struggles to deal with conditions at the southern border and, one might argue, disastrous leadership.

The rest of the statement was a rant about not treating Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents nicely, a muddled restatement of hardline Trump administration policy positions, and claims that Biden had both caused a “spiralling tsunami” and unleashed a “border nightmare”.

Among actions since taking office, Biden has lifted the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy for those seeking asylum in the US – see below – and sought to reunite children with their parents after they were separated at the southern border under one of Trump’s most controversial initiatives.

Some actions by federal authorities under Biden remain controversial, however. Here’s Moustafa Bayoumi, writing for Guardian US last month:

This week, the Biden administration did the unthinkable. It reopened a Trump-era detention site for migrant children. The detention center, a reconverted camp for oil field workers in Carrizo Springs, Texas, is expected to hold 700 children between the ages of 13 and 17, and dozens of kids have already arrived there.

This is an awful development, reminding me of some of the worst abuses of the Trump years.

At the White House today, press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Trump’s statement. She said: “We don’t take our advice or counsel from former President Trump on immigration policy … We’re gonna chart our own path forward, and that includes treating children with humanity.”

Updated at 7.47pm GMT

7.25pm GMT

Eric Swalwell sues Trump over Capitol attack

Donald Trump’s post-presidency legal jeopardy is a favourite subject among liberals traumatised by his four years in power, and today Eric Swalwell, a California congressman who briefly ran for his party’s presidential nomination but more memorably served as a House manager in both impeachment trials, has sought to add to the pile.

In a lawsuit filed in Washington DC, the Democrat accused Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Mo Brooks, an Alabama congressman, of making “a clear call to action” before the Capitol riot on 6 January, to which Trump supporters responded by storming the halls of Congress.

Here’s some of what the suit says:

Trump directly incited the violence at the Capitol that followed and then watched approvingly as the building was overrun. As Trump was instructing them to go to the Capitol, insurgents were already forcing their way through barricades, attempting to breach the building, while blasting Trump’s speech on a bullhorn.

Trump aide Jason Miller responded, telling ABC News: “After failing miserably with two impeachment hoaxes, [Swalwell is] attacking our greatest president with yet another witch hunt. It’s a disgrace that a compromised member of Congress like Swalwell still sits on the House intelligence committee.”

Trump has already been sued over the riot by a Democrat in Congress, Bennie Thompson, who was joined in the action by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The former president was served in that case this week.

Other cases to worry Trump include investigations into his financial affairs in New York and his attempts to overturn his election defeat in Georgia.

On the subject of Trump and the Capitol riot, meanwhile, here’s some further reading from Kari Paul:

7.05pm GMT

Today so far

The White House briefing has now concluded. Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • The US economy added 379,000 jobs last month, according to the latest report from the labor department. The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 6.2%.
  • The Senate has started its “vote-a-rama” on the coronavirus relief bill. Senator Bernie Sanders has already introduced a proposal to add a federal minimum wage to the relief package, but that measure appears to have failed.
  • Chuck Schumer pledged the Senate would stay in session until the coronavirus relief bill passes. “The Senate is going to take a lot of votes. But we are going to power through and finish this bill, however long it takes,” the Democratic majority leader said this morning. “The American people are counting on us and our nation depends on it.”

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

6.56pm GMT

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, rejected the notion that Joe Biden was “snubbing” lawmakers by delaying his first address to a joint session of Congress.

“It’s not a snubbing happening here,” Psaki said. “We are in the middle of a global pandemic.”

Psaki added that Biden intended to address Congress soon, and he is in close consultation with congressional leaders to determine a date for that speech.

The White House has previously indicated that Biden wants to wait to address Congress until after he signs the coronavirus relief bill.

Updated at 8.44pm GMT

6.47pm GMT

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about whether Joe Biden would soon speak to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Psaki said the two leaders would speak “at some point,” but she did not give a clear sense of when that might happen.

6.40pm GMT

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Joe Biden is “not engaged in conversations or negotiations about lowering the threshold for the minimum wage”.

Psaki reiterated that Biden strongly supports Bernie Sanders’ proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to an hour, but she said the president is currently focused on passing the coronavirus relief bill.

Psaki’s comments come as the Senate appears to have rejected Sanders’ amendment to add a minimum wage provision to the relief package.

Updated at 8.44pm GMT

6.36pm GMT

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, was asked about whether Joe Biden was concerned that it seems like his coronavirus relief bill will not attract bipartisan support in Congress.

“Bipartisanship is not determined by a single zip code in Washington DC,” Psaki replied.

The press secretary noted that polls have shown a large majority of the American people support the relief package, and she argued those polls were a better reflection of the bipartisan support for the bill.

Updated at 8.46pm GMT

6.30pm GMT

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, was asked about the Detroit mayor’s rejection of a shipment of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine because of its lower efficacy rate compared to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

“Our team has been in touch with the mayor. There’s been a bit of a misunderstanding,” Psaki said.

Echoing public health experts, the press secretary once again encouraged Americans to receive whichever of the three approved coronavirus vaccines that is made available to them.

Updated at 8.46pm GMT

6.27pm GMT

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said a group of senior officials will soon travel to the US-Mexican border to provide Joe Biden with a briefing on the influx of unaccompanied migrant children at the border.

Citing security concerns, Psaki would not provide details on which officials were going or where specifically along the border they would be traveling to.

When a reporter noted that Donald Trump has criticized Biden’s immigration agenda, Psaki replied: “We don’t take our advice or counsel from former president Trump on immigration policy.”

Updated at 8.45pm GMT

6.18pm GMT

Tthe White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, was once again asked about Joe Biden’s views on the Senate filibuster.

“His view and his position haven’t changed,” Psaki said.

Biden has previously voiced opposition to the idea of scrapping the filibuster, although he has left himself some wiggle room if Republicans attempt to obstruct all of his agenda, which progressives have said is a virtual certainty.

As of now, Democrats don’t have the votes to eliminate the filibuster because at least two moderate Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, has said they are against the idea.

Updated at 8.45pm GMT

6.14pm GMT

Jen Psaki said Joe Biden will hold his first full press conference as president “before the end of the month”.

Biden has received some criticism for not yet holding a solo press conference, as many reporters have noted that Barack Obama and Donald Trump had already held press conferences by this point in their presidencies.

Psaki defended the timing of the press conference, saying Biden has been focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic fallout.

The press secretary also noted Biden frequently takes questions from reporters after his events, but the president usually just answers one or two questions before departing.

6.11pm GMT

Joe Biden will travel to Baltimore on Wednesday to meet with the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck, press secretary Jen Psaki just announced.

The trip comes days after the president announced Merck would start producing Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine.

Biden said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to help Merck facilities get the needed resources to start producing the vaccine.

6.09pm GMT

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, is now holding her daily briefing, and she started the event by commenting on the latest jobs report.

“While it shows some progress, it also shows the long road ahead,” Psaki said.

The press secretary noted that the US economy still has about 9.5m fewer jobs than it did in February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic started.

The jobs report will be discussed when Joe Biden receives an economic briefing from the treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, later today, Psaki said.

Updated at 8.47pm GMT

5.51pm GMT

Former Cuomo aide says he is ‘textbook abuser’

Richard Luscombe reports for the Guardian:

A former aide to Andrew Cuomo who has accused the New York governor of sexual harassment has said she believes he is a “textbook abuser” who knew she was a survivor of sexual violence and nevertheless made inappropriate advances.

Charlotte Bennett, 25, Cuomo’s former executive assistant and health policy adviser, told CBS Evening News on Thursday that Cuomo was trying to proposition her for sex during an “uncomfortable” encounter in his office last spring, and that she felt she “had to get out of this room as soon as possible”.

She said it was one of multiple incidents in which the 63-year-old governor, who is also facing similar allegations from two other women, acted inappropriately.

“He is a textbook abuser,” Bennett said, when asked how she would describe Cuomo. “He lets his temper and his anger rule the office, but he was very sweet to me for a year in the hope that maybe one day when he came on to me I would think we were friends or that it was appropriate or that it was OK.”

5.22pm GMT

Senator Tina Smith, a Democrat of Minnesota, has announced her support for eliminating the Senate filibuster.

“I’ve made up my mind,” Smith said in a tweet. “We need to move this country forward, and that’s why I’ve decided to come out in support of eliminating the filibuster.”

Many progressives have called on Senate Democrats to eliminate the filibuster, a mechanism that could allow Republicans to hold up much of Joe Biden’s agenda.

With the filibuster in place, most bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate, a very cumbersome task when the chamber is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. If the filibuster were eliminated, the Senate could pass bills with a simple majority.

But Democrats would need all of their Senate caucus members to support eliminating the filibuster in order to get rid of it, and centrists like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have consistently said they oppose the idea.

4.55pm GMT

The White House has announced its support for the Democratic amendment to alter the expanded unemployment benefits in the coronavirus relief bill.

According to reports, the amendment would lower the federal unemployment benefits to 0 a week, rather than the 0 a week approved in the House bill.

But the benefits will also expire at the end of September, rather than August, and ,200 of unemployment benefits will be tax-exempt, protecting unemployed Americans from hefty tax bills.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said of the proposed amendment: “The president believes it is critical to extend expanded unemployment benefits through the end of September to help Americans who are struggling, as the president proposed in the American Rescue Plan.”

She added: “The compromise amendment achieves that while helping to address the surprise tax bills that many are facing by eliminating the first ,200 of UI benefits from taxation for 2020. Combined, this amendment would provide more relief to the unemployed than the current legislation.”

Updated at 5.24pm GMT

4.39pm GMT

White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt closed the briefing by emphasizing that there is still much work left to be done to get coronavirus under control in the US.

“We’re not done,” Slavitt said. “We’re making progress, but there are also disturbing signs on the horizon.”

Slavitt added that the Biden administration is working on identifying “trusted messengers” to boost confidence in coronavirus vaccines in their local communities.

4.32pm GMT

A reporter asked the White House coronavirus response team about the Detroit mayor’s decision to reject a shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its lower efficacy rate compared to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said that the mayor had not actually rejected the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, describing the incident as a “misunderstanding”.

Dr Anthony Fauci reiterated that Americans should receive whichever of the three approved vaccines is offered to them.

“We have a highly efficacious group of three vaccines,” Fauci said. “I would just take the vaccine that is most readily available.”

4.27pm GMT

Dr Rochelle Walensky said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would “soon” release guidance on best practices for those who have already been vaccinated.

But the CDC director would not provide further clarity on when the guidance might be released.

4.23pm GMT

Dr Anthony Fauci echoed the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging Americans to continue taking every possible precaution to limit their risk of contracting coronavirus.

Fauci noted that some European countries are currently seeing a rise in cases after relaxing some of the restrictions means to limit the spread of the virus.

Updated at 4.55pm GMT

4.17pm GMT

CDC director emphasizes importance of continued mask usage

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Rochelle Walensky, emphasized the importance of following public health guidelines as coronavirus vaccinations ramp up.

Walensky acknowledged there is a “light at the end of the tunnel”, but she warned that abandoning precautions too early could cause a setback in the US pandemic response.

“We have seen this movie before,” the CDC director said. “When prevention measures like mask mandates are rolled back, cases go up.”

Walensky’s comments come as some states have started relaxing their coronavirus-related restrictions. The Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi announced on Tuesday that they were rescinding mask mandates in their states.

Updated at 5.04pm GMT

4.11pm GMT

The White House coronavirus response team is now holding its briefing to provide an update on the vaccine distribution process.

Andy Slavitt, a senior White House adviser, announced that Fema is opening two new mass-vaccination sites in Atlanta and Cleveland.

The two sites will be located at the Atlanta Falcons’ stadium and the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University.

According to Slavitt, the two vaccination sites will have the capacity to administer 6,000 shots a day.

Updated at 5.04pm GMT

3.53pm GMT

Echoing comments from the White House, Nancy Pelosi said the new jobs report was promising, but she argued it was still vital that the Senate pass Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief bill.

“The February jobs report shows some progress, but much more is needed to address the daily reality of joblessness and financial insecurity facing millions of Americans,” the House speaker said in a statement.

“The need for decisive action to save lives and livelihoods could not be more urgent – which is why, last week, House Democrats passed the Biden American Rescue Plan.”

Pelosi also criticized Republicans for not supporting the relief package, despite polls showing the majority of Americans back the bill.

The Democratic speaker said: “Senate Republicans must end their obstruction and delay tactics, which demonstrate a great disdain for the suffering of the American people, and work with the Senate Democratic majority to pass and send this bill to the president’s desk.”

Updated at 5.15pm GMT

3.37pm GMT

Sanders delivers fiery speech urging Senate to raise minimum wage

In a fiery speech during debate over the American Rescue Plan, Senator Bernie Sanders implored Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to an hour, calling it “disgraceful” that lawmakers have allowed tens of millions of American workers to live on “starvation wages”.

“Nobody in America can survive on .25 an hour, an hour or an hour,” he said. “We need an economy in which all of our workers earn at least a living wage.”

He added: “Now is the time to raise the minimum wage to a living wage – at least an hour. A job in the United States of America should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it.”

Last week, the Senate parliamentarian determined that a provision raising the minimum wage to an hour was inadmissible under the rules of a special budgetary procedure Democrats are using to pass the .9tn coronavirus relief bill on a party-line vote.

Sanders, backed by many progressives in the House, has called on Democrats to “ignore” the decision by the parliamentarian, citing the urgent need to help low-wage workers who have been disproportionately affected by the economic havoc wrought by the pandemic.

Later this morning, Sanders was poised to introduce an amendment that would write a minimum wage hike in the stimulus bill. Though the measure, which would raise the federal minimum wage from .25 to an hour over a five-year period, is unlikely to pass, it may reveal how much support the effort has.

A provision raising the minimum wage was included in a version of the stimulus bill advanced by the House last week, despite the parliamentarian’s ruling.

Sanders also made a forceful case for enacting the Covid bill, which is expected to pass with only Democratic support.

“This is a bill which will answer a profound question: are we living in a democratic society where the US Congress will respond to the needs of working families rather than just the wealthy and large corporations and their lobbyists?” he said. “That’s what today is about.”

Updated at 5.19pm GMT

3.21pm GMT

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, told the New York Times that Democrats are coalescing around a plan to extend expanded unemployment benefits through 4 October.

As of now, the 0 weekly federal unemployment benefits are expected to expire in August, assuming the Senate can pass the relief bill.

But senators like Wyden have warned that could create an “August cliff”, where the benefits expire, leaving Americans in the lurch, while Congress is out of session for the summer.

Wyden told the Times that under the new plan, the benefits would be extended, at the lower rate of 0 a week, until October, avoiding the August cliff.

Of course, the negotiations are still in flux, so we’ll have to wait to see what the final bill says.

Updated at 5.19pm GMT

3.01pm GMT

It’s really “choose your own adventure” when it comes to interpreting the latest jobs report, which showed the US gained 379,000 jobs last month.

If you ask the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, the jobs report shows that the coronavirus relief bill is unnecessary because states are already recovering from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

McConnell claimed that Democrats had “inherited a tide that was already turning”, a rather ironic assertion given how frequently Donald Trump claimed credit for an economic recovery that started under Barack Obama.

But according to the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, the latest jobs report underscores how slowly the US economy is recovering from the pandemic.

Klain noted that, at the current rate of job growth, the US will not regain all the jobs lost since the start of the pandemic until April 2023.

Updated at 5.20pm GMT

2.42pm GMT

The Senate was originally supposed to debate the coronavirus relief bill for 20 hours before moving on to the vote-a-rama.

But this morning, the Democratic senator Chris Van Hollen asked for unanimous consent to limit debate to three hours, and no one objected.

Republicans were not in the chamber as Van Hollen proposed limiting debate, so some congressional reporters suggested that Democrats had outplayed their colleagues by raising the issue when they had the chamber to themselves.

But Republicans have pushed back against those claims, saying they wanted to quickly move on to the vote-a-rama, during which they are expected to introduce many amendments.

From a Washington Post reporter:

Updated at 5.21pm GMT

2.26pm GMT

Schumer says Senate will ‘power through and finish’ coronavirus relief bill

The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said the chamber would “power through and finish” passing the coronavirus relief bill, no matter how long it takes.

Because of the number of amendments that Republicans are expected to introduce, the final Senate passage of the bill probably won’t happen until sometime this weekend.

“The Senate is going to take a lot of votes. But we are going to power through and finish this bill, however long it takes,” Schumer said. “The American people are counting on us and our nation depends on it.”

Schumer also thanked the Senate clerks for reading the full text of the bill aloud, which took more than 10 hours and concluded early this morning.

The Senate usually skips reading the full text of the bill, but Republican Senator Ron Johnson objected to Schumer’s motion to dispense with the reading, forcing the clerks to read all 628 pages aloud.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for your efforts yesterday and every day,” Schumer told the clerks today. He added this pointed remark to Johnson: “And, as for our friend from Wisconsin, I hope he enjoyed his Thursday evening.”

Updated at 5.21pm GMT

2.14pm GMT

Senate begins debate on coronavirus relief bill

This is Joan Greve in Washington, taking over for Martin Belam.

The Senate is now beginning its three hours of debate over the coronavirus relief package, a day after Vice-President Kamala Harris broke a Senate tie to allow the chamber to take up the bill.

After the three-hour debate, the Senate will begin its “vote-a-rama” on the relief bill.

Bernie Sanders prepares to attend a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.
Bernie Sanders prepares to attend a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.
Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

During the vote-a-rama, any senator can introduce an amendment to the bill. Republicans are expected to introduce many amendments, forcing Democrats to take difficult votes on issues like immigration.

But the first amendment of the vote-a-rama will come from Senator Bernie Sanders, who is seeking to add a provision that will increase the federal minimum wage to an hour.

The version of the relief bill that passed the House on Saturday included the minimum wage proposal, but it was stripped out of the Senate version after the chamber’s parliamentarian ruled that it did not meet the requirements for passage via reconciliation.

The minimum wage proposal is expected to fail, but it will be interesting to see which Democratic senators oppose Sanders’ amendment.

That’s all still coming up, so stay tuned.

1.49pm GMT

US gains 379,000 jobs as more states reopen economies

The Guardian’s Dominic Rushe and Michael Sainato report:

The US economy bounced back strongly in February adding 379,000 jobs as more states reopened for business and more vaccines against the coronavirus became available.

The number was the largest gains the Department of Labor has recorded since November and came after jobs were lost in December and a lackluster January report when just 49,000 new jobs were added. The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 6.2%.

Coronavirus infection rates remain at high levels and close to 520,000 people have now died of Covid-19 but states including Texas, Massachusetts and New York have all moved to roll back business closures as more vaccine becomes available.

The latest job report means the US is still close to 10m jobs short of where it was before the pandemic hit and troubling signs remain in the employment market.

Nearly all, 355,000 jobs, of February’s gains were made in the leisure and hospitality industry as coronavirus restrictions eased and venues reopened. Other sectors, including local government, education and mining, lost jobs. The gains elsewhere were small.

The stark disparity in unemployment by race remained. The unemployment rate for white Americans was 5.6%, for Blacks it was 9.9%, and for Latinos 8.5%. The rate for teenage unemployment was 13.9%.

Read more of Dominic Rushe and Michael Sainato’s report here: US gains 379,000 jobs as more states reopen economies

Updated at 2.03pm GMT

1.48pm GMT

Joe Biden has rounded out his White House staff with a host of new appointments. The White House announced six additional staffers to its National Economic Council, including Columbia University professor Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” and has warned against an economy dominated by a few giant firms.

“Putting this twitter feed on hold for now – so long!” Wu, a former senior enforcement counsel to New York’s attorney general and a former Federal Trade Commission adviser, said in a post on his appointment.

Congressional Democrats have already begun talks with the White House on ways to crack down on tech companies, including making them responsible for disinformation and addressing their market power.

Several Republicans have also sought to hit back at big tech, including efforts to scrap a law known as Section 230 that shields online companies for liability over users’ posted content.

Reuters report that in the White House statement on new staff, Biden also named 13 additions to his Domestic Policy Council and two more staffers to the White House Covid-19 response team.

Updated at 5.22pm GMT

1.35pm GMT

Joe Biden has 60% job approval rating – poll

The Associated Press this morning are describing Joe Biden as enjoying “an early presidential honeymoon”, citing a new poll which says 60% of Americans are approving of his job performance thus far.

Julie Pace and Emily Swanson write that less than two months into his presidency, Biden has made the pandemic his central focus, urging Americans to follow stringent social distancing and mask guidelines and vowing to speed up distribution of critical vaccines. He’s also argued that until the spread of the virus is under control, the economy won’t fully recover. That’s led to an even higher rating for him than his rating as a president – fully 70% of Americans (including 44% of Republicans) – approve of his handling of pandemic.

There’s a more partisan divergence on the economy though. Only 17% of Republicans think he has handling that well. That sort of attitude may be one of the reasons that the Senate Republican caucus believes it will not alienate supporters by trying to hold up the .9 trillion Democratic-backed Covid rescue plan which will be debated from 9am EST (1400 GMT) today.

1.17pm GMT

New York City based writer Ross Barkan has this for us to day on the fate of Gov Andrew Cuomo, saying karma is coming for him, with a vengeance:

Andrew Cuomo is on the front page of every New York City newspaper, a headliner of the nightly newscasts, and a constant subject of debate and intrigue on CNN and MSNBC. Corporate media abhors a vacuum. If Donald Trump was still president of the United States, Cuomo could count on the idiocy and scandal in the White House to distract from whatever came out of New York.

That’s how he became a star in the first place. Trump’s federal response to the pandemic was so plainly inept and horrendous, any questions about failure on the local level could always be deflected, especially by eager, Cuomo-worshiping Democrats. One salacious, incendiary or perplexing Trump tweet could seize a headline and give cover to all of those, like Cuomo, who were failing out of view.

Cuomo is dying by the sword he once lived by. The Cuomo scandals are perfect for cable TV because they are both legitimate and compelling. There is a natural narrative arc, a rising and falling action; these media companies helped create a myth, and now they will tear it down. The myth, in any sane world, would never have existed in the first place. But that’s where we are.

Many politicians in New York are now calling for Cuomo to resign. Once so commanding, the governor now hides, refusing to appear on TV or talk to the press. His schedule is emptied out. He is hoping this all blows over. But that’s not quite how the modern media work. If there is a void to fill, it will be filled, and the distractions of Trump are no longer there to bail Cuomo out.

Read more here: Ross Barkan – Andrew Cuomo was never a hero. Karma is coming for him, with a vengeance

Updated at 1.48pm GMT

1.01pm GMT

Over at CNN, Stephen Collinson offers this analysis of the Senate antics over the Covid relief bill, saying it sets the scene for what we can expect from the next two years of the Biden administration. He writes:

The clash over Covid relief also reflects the changing politics of the pandemic, with Biden warning the crisis is far from over and Republicans arguing that a sudden surge in vaccine distribution and a fall in new cases makes more huge government aid superfluous.

Senate debate on the American Recovery Plan will start for real on Friday after Sen Ron Johnson, who is leading a circus-like GOP bid to slow down the bill, forced Senate clerks to read the bill aloud – a process that began Thursday afternoon and was a 10-hour marathon. For a while, Johnson was the only senator in the chamber as luckless Senate clerks plowed through the monster text — reflecting the grandstanding inherent in a gambit that seemed scripted for conservative cable news shows.

By trying to highlight what he sees as massive overspending with a stalling effort, Johnson – who was most recently seen selling delusional claims that the red-hatted invaders of the US Capitol on January 6 were not Trump supporters – is focusing attention on a GOP conference apparently committed to politics of obstruction.

Though the bill is widely popular in the country, Republicans – who have chosen to root their hopes of a rebound in former President Donald Trump’s radical base – appear convinced they will pay no price for trying to block it.

Read more here: CNN – Desperate Americans wait as Washington duels over Covid-19 relief bill

12.28pm GMT

The national rush to vaccinate teachers in hopes of soon reopening pandemic-shuttered schools is running into one basic problem: Almost no one knows how many are getting the shots, or refusing to get them.

Casey Smith writes for the Associated Press that states and many districts have not been keeping track of school employee vaccinations, even as the federal government asks them to prioritize teachers nationwide. President Joe Biden directed all state governments this week to administer at least one coronavirus vaccination to every teacher, school employee and child-care worker by the end of March

Vaccines are not required for educators to return to school buildings, but the absence of data complicates efforts to address parents’ concerns about health risk levels and some teachers unions’ calls for widespread vaccinations as a condition of reopening schools.

The number of school staff members receiving vaccinations and refusal rates are unclear in several large districts where teachers were prioritized, including Las Vegas, Chicago and Louisville, Kentucky. Some state agencies and districts have said privacy concerns prevent them from tracking or publishing teacher vaccination data. Others say vaccine administration sites are not tracking recipients’ occupations and they are not in position to survey employees themselves.

No states are publicly reporting the percentage of teachers and school staff that have been vaccinated, according to a Johns Hopkins University analysis published Thursday.

Education leaders are missing out on an opportunity to address hesitancy about when it’s safe to go back, said Megan Collins, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions. Increased transparency could influence back-to-school decision making, she said, and would likely make teachers and students more willing to return to classrooms.

“We’re seeing a substantial disconnect. There are states not prioritizing teachers for vaccine that are fully open for in-person instruction, and others that are prioritizing teachers for vaccines, but aren’t open at all,” Collins said. “If states are going to use teacher vaccinations as a part of the process for safely returning to classrooms, it’s very important then to be able to communicate that information so people know that teachers are actually getting vaccines.”

12.20pm GMT

Lester Black reports for us this morning as part of our America’s dirty divide series, which is examining the country’s vast environmental inequalities and how climate change will make things worse:

Scott Schuyler doesn’t need to see the Skagit River to know something is wrong. As he walks down the river’s steep embankment, wet rock and moss under each step, he can hear the problem. “The river should be singing to us right now, it should be free flowing,” Schuyler says as cold February rain drops silently disappear into his quilted blue jacket. “The river has been stolen from us. It has been harvested for money.”

Schuyler is a member of the Upper Skagit Indian tribe, which has lived along the Skagit River for at least 8,400 years and considers it to be sacred. A century ago, Seattle’s public utility dammed the river in three spots, creating a hydroelectric complex that provides 18% of the city’s energy. On this particular two-mile stretch near the Canadian border, the entire river has been diverted into a hydroelectric tunnel, reducing this wide riverbed to a stretch of sleepy pools.

Scott Schuyler stands in front of the Gorge Dam, which diverts the entire Skagit River into a hydroelectric tunnel.
Scott Schuyler stands in front of the Gorge Dam, which diverts the entire Skagit River into a hydroelectric tunnel.
Photograph: Lester Black

The tribe wants Seattle to remove the Gorge Dam, the lowest of the three dams, and return the river to the section the city de-watered. The tribe says Seattle’s century of hydroelectric work on the Skagit has contributed to a sharp drop in river’s salmon runs, which has ripple effects across the region. “Our people are a fishing people, a salmon people. The salmon are disappearing and it’s hurting our people,” Schuyler said.

The city’s federal license to operate the dams expires in 2025, and in order to obtain a renewal, the city is required to work with various other stakeholders – including the federal and state agencies and the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe – to study the dam’s effect on the river.

But less than a year into the reapplication process, the city has found itself in disagreement with almost every stakeholder involved, including powerful state and federal agencies. The battle over the Skagit River and its dams is in some ways a proxy battle over the hidden expense of fighting climate change. On one side are governments and utility companies looking to hydropower as a lower-carbon source of energy; on the other are conservation-minded scientists and other stakeholders, often Indigenous people who live along targeted rivers, who decry dams as devastating to the local environments.

Read more of Lester Black’s report for our America’s dirty divide series here: ‘The river was stolen from us’: a tribe’s battle to retake the Skagit River

12.04pm GMT

Former US Attorney Joyce Vance has published a strongly-worded op-ed at MSNBC about Republican efforts to suppress the vote. It argues that Republican lies about voter fraud are giving way to naked grasping for power. It opens:

We’re living in a time where one political party openly believes it’s more important to win elections than it is to let Americans choose their own representatives in free and fair elections. And whether they’re going to get away with it is shaping up to be one of the most important issues the country faces in the post-Trump presidency era.

The Supreme Court isn’t a venue where you typically expect to hear the quiet part said out loud. But that was what happened Tuesday, when an attorney for the Arizona Republican Party, Michael Carvin, advised the court that provisions that made it easier for eligible Americans to vote put “us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.” He was implicitly characterizing laws that make voting more difficult for likely Democratic voters, often people of color, as the difference between winning and losing elections.

Historically, restrictive voting measures have been justified as necessary to keep a shadowy group of people who are allegedly intent on casting fraudulent ballots from stealing elections. But those people never seem to materialize.

It’s clear that Republican operatives and legislatures have adopted voter suppression through restrictive legislation as a political strategy. Now that a lawyer has confirmed before the Supreme Court that it’s really just about winning elections, what’s a constitutional republic to do?

Read more here: MSNBC – Joyce Vance – The GOP has enlisted the Supreme Court in its anti-voting rights crusade

11.44am GMT

Eric Sweeney reports for us this morning on the hundreds of people who have gotten Covid vaccine shots thanks to a partnership between the Arkansas health department and historically Black social groups:

Soon after Arkansas began allowing people over 70 to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in January, Wanda King heard from her aunt and cousin, who fell in that age group, that they were struggling to get their shots.

So, she turned to her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister Michelle Smith, who is the director of the office of health equity and HIV elimination at the Arkansas department of health. Smith helped King locate a pharmacist in the town of Brinkley, 12 miles away, who was willing to join them in hosting a clinic in Cotton Plant in late February that would offer 180 vaccination slots.

“I immediately got on the phone and started spreading the word, putting it on Facebook, and asking people to help me spread the word,” King says. She recruited other sorority sisters to help coordinate sign-ups, purchase snacks, masks and hand sanitizer, and greet people on the day of the event.

“Anything we can do to roll out the red carpet for these individuals, that’s what we want to do,” she adds.

The clinic in Cotton Plant is part of a broader effort by the state health department and Arkansas chapters of historically Black sororities and fraternities, known as the Divine Nine, working together to get Black Arkansans vaccinated. Through the partnership, hundreds have gotten their shots so far.

Public service is one of the key tenets of Black Greek Letter Organizations, formerly known as the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Membership in these organizations is lifelong, and they have been involved with health initiatives for more than 100 years. Smith says the Covid -19 vaccination effort is an extension of that.

“If you want inroads into the Black community, you start with the church, and then the next step is the fraternities and sororities,” she says. “They are trusted leaders in the community, so if we want to get information out to a larger swath of people, we go to these groups.”

Read more of Erica Sweeney’s report here: The sororities and fraternities helping Black Americans get vaccinated

11.41am GMT

There’s been quite the to-and-fro between the White House and Texas Gov Greg Abbott over mask mandates the last days. Kim Chandler at Associated Press writes that another governor, Alabama’s Kay Ivey has resisted political pressure and angry constituents over her state’s mask order.

“Maybe they don’t have access to the same information I have. We want to be abundantly clear and abundantly safe before we drop the mask mandate,” Ivey said when asked about fellow Republicans including the Alabama Senate and the lieutenant governor who urged her to end the order.

Ivey issued Alabama’s mask order in July and announced yesterday that she would extend it five more weeks until 9 April.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey receiving a Covid vaccine dose earlier in the year.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey receiving a Covid vaccine dose earlier in the year.
Photograph: Mickey Welsh/AP

“We need to get past Easter and hopefully allow more Alabamians to get their first shot before we take a step some other states have taken to remove the mask order altogether and lift other restrictions. Folks, we are not there yet, but goodness knows we’re getting closer,” Ivey said at a Thursday news conference.

Ivey’s announcement came days after Mississippi and Texas dropped their mandates, decisions President Joe Biden called “Neanderthal thinking.”

Mississippi’s governor took issue with the criticism. “Mississippians don’t need handlers. As numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts. I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them,” Gov Tate Reeves responded on Twitter.

Dr Michael Saag, an infectious disease specialist who contracted Covid-19 early in the pandemic and now treats patients with the illness, said Ivey deserves credit for standing up to calls to lift the order from fellow Republicans.

“I think it was a bold step forward considering the pressure she was under,” he said. But rather than setting a firm deadline for the requirement to expire, Saag said, it would be better to see where both caseloads and vaccinations totals are next month and then make a decision.

Ivey made a tongue-in-cheek quip about the heaping doses of criticism she has received from some over masks. “Y’all, I’m not trying to be Governor Mee-Maw as some on social media have called me. I’m just trying to urge you to use the common sense the good Lord gave each of us to be smart and considerate of others,” she said.

11.15am GMT

Senate to debate as Republicans attempt to derail .9tn Covid relief bill

Susan Cornwell and Makini Brice write for Reuters today that the Senate debate will be “contentious” today. That feels like an understatement.

They note that the Senate is expected to debate the bill three hours, before considering a multitude of amendments, which could require a marathon voting session, before taking a vote on final passage in a process that could extend into the weekend. Republicans are expected to use procedural maneuvers to slow the process, as demonstrated by Sen Ron Johnson of Wisconsin insisting on the bill being read in full yesterday.

The relief legislation includes funding for vaccines and medical supplies, extends jobless assistance and provides a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments. Opinion polls indicate broad public support.

If the Senate approves the bill, it will have to be sent back to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for final passage. Democrats hope Biden can sign the bill into law before 14 March, some of the current benefits run out.

With no votes to spare, Senate Democrats have tweaked the measure to ensure all 50 of their members would support it. Those changes would steer more aid to smaller US states and add money for infrastructure projects, among other adjustments.

But efforts by some senators to alter temporary federal unemployment benefits failed. The Senate bill keeps the House plan for 0 per-week payments through 29 August. It was unclear whether any senators would try to change that figure, possibly to 0, during the amendment process in coming days.

In the Senate, bills usually require the support of 60 senators. But the coronavirus relief bill is being advanced under a legislative procedure known as reconciliation that allows passage with a simple majority vote.

Updated at 1.17pm GMT

11.04am GMT

A handful of rightwing “super-spreaders” on social media were responsible for the bulk of election misinformation in the run-up to the Capitol attack, according to a new study that also sheds light on the staggering reach of falsehoods pushed by Donald Trump.

A report from the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a group that includes Stanford and the University of Washington, analyzed social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok during several months before and after the 2020 elections.

It found that “super-spreaders” – responsible for the most frequent and most impactful misinformation campaigns – included Trump and his two elder sons, as well as other members of the Trump administration and the rightwing media.

The study’s authors and other researchers say the findings underscore the need to disable such accounts to stop the spread of misinformation.

“If there is a limit to how much content moderators can tackle, have them focus on reducing harm by eliminating the most effective spreaders of misinformation,” said said Lisa Fazio, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University who studies the psychology of fake news but was not involved EIP report. “Rather than trying to enforce the rules equally across all users, focus enforcement on the most powerful accounts.”

The report analyzed social media posts featuring words like “election” and “voting” to track key misinformation narratives related to the the 2020 election, including claims of mail carriers throwing away ballots, legitimate ballots strategically not being counted, and other false or unproven stories.

The report studied how these narratives developed and the effect they had. It found during this time period, popular rightwing Twitter accounts “transformed one-off stories, sometimes based on honest voter concerns or genuine misunderstandings, into cohesive narratives of systemic election fraud”.

Ultimately, the “false claims and narratives coalesced into the meta-narrative of a ‘stolen election’, which later propelled the January 6 insurrection”, the report said.

“The 2020 election demonstrated that actors – both foreign and domestic – remain committed to weaponizing viral false and misleading narratives to undermine confidence in the US electoral system and erode Americans’ faith in our democracy,” the authors concluded.

Read more of Kari Paul’s report here: A few rightwing ‘super-spreaders’ fueled bulk of election falsehoods, study says

10.47am GMT

If you fancy something to listen to today, can I recommend our Politics Weekly Extra podcast?

This week guest host Rafael Behr puts some epoch-defining questions to the former US ambassador to Nato Nicholas Burns. How does the new president convince the Europeans that America is reliable? How does Washington begin to engage with Vladimir Putin’s Russia? Does ‘the west’ exist any more?

10.45am GMT

If you aren’t clear why the Senate spent a lot of yesterday listening to the entire text of the .9 trillion Covid rescue plan being read out, rather than debating it, then Philip Bump has you covered at the Washington Post. He writes:

After passing the House, the .9 trillion bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate. But that won’t happen for a while yet, not because there aren’t the votes to pass it but, instead, because Sen Ron Johnson decided to force the chamber to read the 628-page bill in its entirety. The effect isn’t to change the outcome. Instead, it’s to delay the inevitable.

Normally, the Senate or House dispenses with the required reading of legislation. For those looking to throw up any possible roadblock to a bill’s passage, though, forcing the bill to be read (which can be done at the request of any member) is an effective tool.

It’s meant to be a nuisance. But it carries an additional weight this time. At this moment, on this issue, time can be measured in human lives. On average, nearly 2,000 people a day are dying from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. That’s a death about once every 44 seconds.

Around 80 Americans would have died from Covid for each hour the Senate spent reading the bill yesterday.

10.32am GMT

Welcome to our US politics live blog for Friday, after a late night in the Senate.

  • The Senate will reconvene at 9am EST (1400 GMT) to debate the .9 trillion Covid relief bill. It was read in full yesterday, with the process not finishing until the early hours.
  • Republicans wanted it read in full because they argued that a lot of the measures don’t directly apply to Covid. Senate Democrats thanked Republicans for the move, saying it showed to the American people exactly what help their opposition was trying to delay.
  • Republicans are so determined to delay progress that Vice President Kamala Harris had to come to the chamber yesterday to break a Senate tie to even begin the debate.
  • Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer pledged that the chamber would stay in session to pass the bill this weekend, “no matter how long it takes”.
  • The White House defended President Joe Biden’s criticism of Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi, after the president called their decisions to end Covid mask mandates “Neanderthal thinking”.
  • The US Capitol police has requested a two-month extension to the national guard’s mission at the Capitol, though Nancy Pelosi downplayed the security threats at the Capitol which had caused the House to rearrange their votes this week.
  • A Turkish court trying 26 Saudi nationals in absentia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has refused to admit as evidence a recent US intelligence report implicating the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
  • Biden will keep pushing the Covid relief agenda today, as he holds a roundtable on his American Rescue Plan at 3.15pm ET today. He’ll also receive the president’s daily brief, and lunch with Kamala Harris.
  • Jen Psaki’s media briefing today is at 12.30, and the Covid response team will face the press earlier, at 11am.

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