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

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Senate to debate as Republicans attempt to derail $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill – live updates” was written by Martin Belam, for theguardian.com on Friday 5th March 2021 11.44 UTC

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

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.

Senate to debate as Republicans attempt to derail $1.9 trillion 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 $400 per-week payments through 29 August. It was unclear whether any senators would try to change that figure, possibly to $300, 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.

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

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?

 

If you aren’t clear why the Senate spent a lot of yesterday listening to the entire text of the $1.9 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 $1.9 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.

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 $1.9 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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