Day 44: "No matter how long it takes."
1/ The Senate voted to open debate on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill. The vote was 51 to 50, with Harris breaking the 50-to-50 tie. As soon as the Senate voted to proceed to the bill, Sen. Ron Johnson forced the clerk to read all 628 pages of the bill, which will take hours. Republicans can use up to 20 hours of debate time, and then force an unlimited number of amendment votes. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer dismissed Johnson’s effort to delay, saying the tactic “will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks […] No matter how long it takes, the Senate is going to stay in session to finish the bill this week.” Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, has promised that the House will pass the Senate’s version of the bill, despite the limited eligibility for $1,400 relief checks and excluded $15 minimum wage increase. (Politico / NPR / Washington Post / Bloomberg)
😷 Dept. of “We Have It Totally Under Control.”
Global: Total confirmed cases: ~115,468,000; deaths: ~2,566,000
U.S.: Total confirmed cases: ~28,809,000; deaths: ~520,000; fully vaccinated: ~8.4%; partially vaccinated: ~16.3%
Source: Johns Hopkins University / Washington Post
The United States is averaging 2 million vaccine doses administered per day. A month ago, the average was about 1.3 million. (New York Times)
2/ The Trump administration spent about $10 billion in hospitals funds on Operation Warp Speed contracts. Congress had allocated the money to help health care providers pay for pandemic-related expenses including staffing, personal protective equipment, and vaccine distribution. While Congress allowed the Department of Health and Human Services to move money between accounts, lawmakers required the agency notify them at least 10 days in advance of a transfer. Instead, HHS spent the money directly out of Provider Relief Fund on Operation Warp Speed contracts, without making a transfer, which didn’t trigger the congressional notification requirements. (STAT News)
3/ The House passed an expansion of federal voting rights over unified Republican opposition. The bill, titled the “For the People Act,” creates uniform national voting standards, overhauls campaign finance laws, and outlaws partisan redistricting – similar to a bill passed two years ago that stalled in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time. The measure passed 220-210, with one Democrat joining all Republican House members in voting against it. The bill is unlikely to draw the 60 votes needed to advance in the 50-50 Senate unless Democrats abandon the filibuster. (Washington Post / New York Times / NBC News / NPR)
4/ The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The policing reform bill would ban chokeholds, end racial and religious profiling, establish a national database to track police misconduct, and prohibit certain no-knock warrants. The legislation would also alter “qualified immunity” – a legal doctrine that shields officers from lawsuits – making it easier to pursue claims of police misconduct. The bill passed 220 to 212, with two Democrats voting against it, and one Republican accidentally voting for it. After the vote, Rep. Lance Gooden tweeted that he had pressed the wrong button and meant to vote “no.” The House passed a similar bill last year, which failed in the Republican-controlled Senate. (NPR / Washington Post)
5/ The Biden administration will convert immigrant family detention centers in Texas into quick-release intake facilities, which would rapidly screen migrant parents and children and release them into the U.S. within 72 hours. The Department of Health and Human Services, meanwhile, has already re-opened a Trump-era overflow shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, to accommodate an influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The shelter system is currently at 94% occupancy and expected to reach its maximum this month. (Washington Post / Axios / Bloomberg)
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott stalled federal efforts to test migrants released from custody for Covid-19 and then blamed the Biden administration exposing Texans to the coronavirus. Earlier this week, Abbott relaxed the state’s Covid-19 restrictions despite health officials’ warnings. (CNN)
6/ Capitol Police requested that the National Guard continue to provide security at the U.S. Capitol for another two months. There are more than 5,000 Guard members currently in Washington, D.C. They’re all scheduled to go home on March 12. The House, meanwhile, canceled its session today after Capitol Police warned of a “possible plot” by a militia group to storm the building. (Associated Press / Politico / Washington Post / NPR / CNN)
7/ Federal investigators are examining communication records between members of Congress and the pro-Trump mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol. Justice Department officials have assigned more than two dozen prosecutors to look into whether lawmakers wittingly or unwittingly helped the insurrectionists. (CNN)
8/ The Trump administration referred at least 334 leaks of classified information for criminal investigation – a record. Under Trump, the FBI also established a special unit in its Counterintelligence Division for investigating leaks. Very few referrals, however, ended up identifying the leaker or going to trial. (The Intercept)
9/ Trump’s Justice Department declined to open a criminal investigation into the actions by Elaine Chao when she was transportation secretary. According to an Office of Inspector General report, Chao, the wife of Mitch McConnell, repeatedly used her position and agency staff to help family members who run a shipping business with ties to China. Chao also required DOT staff to help with personal errands, and do chores for her father, which included editing his Wikipedia page and promoting his Chinese-language biography. The inspector general referred the findings to the Justice Department in December 2020, which declined to open an investigation, citing “there is not predication” to do so. (New York Times / NPR)
10/ South Carolina senators added a firing squad to the list of execution methods in a bid to restart the state’s executions after nearly 10 years. Currently, inmates can choose between the electric chair and lethal injection. South Carolina, however, can’t put anyone to death currently because its supply of lethal injection drugs has expired and can no longer be used or purchased. Utah, Oklahoma, and Mississippi also allow a firing squad. (Associated Press)
Become a member.
Help keep WTF Just Happened Today going with a small contribution.