What Now?! – 5/26/21

“A group of Senate Republicans plans to send President Joe Biden an infrastructure counteroffer this week as the sides consider whether they can bridge an ideological gulf to craft a bipartisan bill,” CNBC reports.

“The proposal could cost nearly $1 trillion, and Republicans aim to offset the spending without increasing taxes. The group of GOP lawmakers aims to deliver the plan as soon as Thursday morning.”

Playbook: “How much of this is real — and how much is not wanting to be holding the grenade when it goes off? If and when talks break down, each side will want to look like the reasonable one — and to blame the other side for not compromising.”

“A small bipartisan group of senators is privately sketching out the contours of a new infrastructure package — and fresh ways to pay for it — that the lawmakers hope to sell to colleagues after negotiations between Republican senators and the White House stalled in recent days,” the Washington Post reports.

“The nascent plan is being drafted by more than a half-dozen lawmakers, including Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).”It’s especially interesting that Manchin is involved.

New York Times on state tax receipts and revenue looking better than expected. “That turnaround is partly the product of strong income tax receipts, particularly in states that heavily tax high earners and the wealthy, whose finances have fared well in the crisis.”

“The unexpectedly rosy picture is raising pressure on President Biden to repurpose hundreds of billions of dollars of federal aid approved this year, in order to help fund a potential bipartisan infrastructure deal.”

Senate Democrats are unlikely to try using the FY 2021 budget resolution to put together another reconciliation package for President Biden’s infrastructure plan, Punchbowl News reports. Democratic leaders privately say they don’t believe they can finish work by the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30.

This means the infrastructure debate is likely to slip into the fall, which will put it on a collision path with the debt-limit fight.

“Manhattan’s district attorney has convened the grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former president Donald Trump, other executives at his company or the business itself should prosecutors present the panel with criminal charges,” the Washington Post reports.

“The panel was convened recently and will sit three days a week for six months. It is likely to hear several matters — not just the Trump case ­— during the duration of its term, which is longer than a traditional New York state grand-jury assignment… Generally, special grand juries such as this one are convened to participate in long-term matters rather than to hear evidence of crimes charged routinely.”

“The move indicates that District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s investigation of the former president and his business has reached an advanced stage after more than two years. It suggests, too, that Vance believes he has found evidence of a crime — if not by Trump then by someone potentially close to him or by his company.”

Early data from Ohio’s “Vax-A-Million” lottery look promising, but that hasn’t stopped Ohio’s state lawmakers from opposing the program. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the reaction has been “universally negative” and that “legislators from both political parties have condemned the idea as an ill-conceived waste of taxpayer money.” Well, that’s dumb. It’s working.

Just look at how much Ohio’s vaccination rates have rebounded since they announced their lottery, as seen in the above chart from Philip Bump. That bump could end up saving Ohio billions in lost productivity, in healthcare costs, and in not needing as burdensome of public health regulations.

Why is such a bump unlikely to come from spending in other forms?

As Alex Tabarrock puts it, vaccination lotteries might work especially well because the folks who have outsized fears of (very unlikely) complications may also be the precise people who go get a vaccine in the hopes of landing a (very unlikely) prize. The way they assess risk and chance happen to align in this case.

Legislators tend to want to spend taxpayer dollars themselves, and offering big prizes can seem frivolous, but for now, Ohio looks like a big winner with their vaccination lottery.

“It feels like a bribe to Ohioans.”— Ohio state Rep. Jena Powell (R), in an interview on CNN, criticizing the state’s vaccine lottery program.

Yes, it is. Because left tot their own devices, some Ohioans cannot be trusted to do the right thing without being bribed to do so.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) on Monday expressed support for the House bill on creating a bipartisan commission to study the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. “I would support the bill,” Romney told reporters, per the Hill and Axios.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) came out in support of the House-passed Jan. 6 commission bill investigating the attack on the Capitol, She is the second Republican senator to back the bill.

All eyes are on the Senate after the bill passed in the House in a 252-175 vote, with 35 Republicans crossing party lines to approve the commission. 10 Republican senators are needed to join all 50 Democrats in the chamber in order to overcome the filibuster and pass the bill.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who, like Romney, voted to convict ex-President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial for inciting the insurrection, said on Sunday that she “strongly” supports having a commission to study the Capitol siege, but only under certain conditions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has come out against the House bill, as has fellow leader GOP conference chair Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). Sen. Roy Blunt (R-CO) argued on Sunday that it was “too early” to create a commission.

Five days after Marjorie Taylor Greene’s remarks comparing mask requirements to the Holocaust, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) finally found time to rebuke Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

Of course, I remember when McCarthy rebuked Donald Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection.

Michelle Cottle: “Some in the GOP conference are asking: What kind of leader dispatches one of his troops to make a deal, then abandons and humiliates him over a bill that’s going to pass anyway? The most obvious answer: a pathetic one.”

“Such harsh assessments are unfair — though not because they are inaccurate. Mr. McCarthy has ong done whatever it takes to get what he wants. And what he really, really wants now is the speaker’s gavel, which hovers just a few precious seats beyond his grasp. If Mitch McConnell, the ruthless, calculating Senate Republican leader, is a shark, Mr. McCarthy is a jellyfish, carried spinelessly along by the political currents.”

“But these days, such inchoate non-leadership is the best that House Republicans can hope for. In fact, that’s what they demand.”

A White House official tells the Wall Street Journal that the United States will have half of all American adults fully vaccinated today.

The CDC issued a report on “breakthrough cases” of COVID-19 through the end of April, when 101 million Americans were fully vaccinated, the Associated Press reports.

“Of those, about 10,300 breakthrough infections were reported — that’s about 1 infection in every 10,000 fully vaccinated people.”

“Donald Trump’s attorney defended the ex-President’s incendiary speech on January 6, saying he is protected under the First Amendment and had ‘absolute immunity’ while he was President to contest the election,” CNN reports.

“Trump argues in DC District Court that his bully pulpit message to his supporters at the political rally on January 6 — encouraging them to oppose Congress certifying the vote — was a constitutionally protected act of the presidency.”

Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), who also served as President Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, told CNN that he thinks the ex-president bears responsibility for the Capitol insurrection and that his presidency was “diminished” as a result of the deadly attack.

Said Brown: “Absolutely, I mean he bears responsibility. I think his presidency was diminished as a result of this, and I think he’s paying a price. He’s been impeached twice. He was impeached for those actions.”

Washington Examiner: “Thousands of National Guard troops stationed at the U.S. Capitol since the Jan. 6 riots have left the campus, leaving security solely up to the Capitol Police for the first time in more than four months.”

“Ravaged by a brutal second wave, India recorded 4,454 deaths on Monday, making it the third country in the world after the United States and Brazil to surpass more than 300,000 coronavirus deaths,” the Washington Post reports.

“The virus has receded from major cities like Mumbai and Delhi as hospital beds free up and oxygen shortages ease. But its spread into rural areas remains a worry. People in the countryside are reporting deaths after covid-like symptoms without ever being tested or treated for the virus.”

Washington Post: “The source of the coronavirus that has left more than 3 million people dead around the world remains a mystery. But in recent months the idea that it emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology — once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory — has gained new credence.”

“How and why did this happen? For one, efforts to discover a natural source of the virus have failed. Second, early efforts to spotlight a lab leak often got mixed up with speculation that the virus was deliberately created as a bioweapon. That made it easier for many scientists to dismiss the lab scenario as tin-hat nonsense. But a lack of transparency by China and renewed attention to the activities of the Wuhan lab have led some scientists to say they were too quick to discount a possible link at first.”

Associated Press: “The White House and the Kremlin are working to arrange a summit next month between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Switzerland… National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is meeting with his Russian counterpart in Geneva, the proposed host city, this week to finalize details.”

“Geneva is now expected to be the choice for Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Putin as president, according to a second official. The Americans and Russians are eyeing June 15-16 for the summit. An official announcement was expected in the coming days.”

New York Times: “There has been a surge in start-ups in America that experts have yet to fully explain. But a new study — using data that allows researchers to more precisely track new businesses across time and place — finds that the surge coincides with federal stimulus, and is strongest in Black communities.”

“Across a number of states, the pace of weekly business registrations more than doubled in the months after the CARES Act was signed in March 2020. Business registrations rose again, by 60 percent, around the period of the supplementary aid package signed in December. Coinciding with the third wave of stimulus in March, weekly business registrations have been up by 20 percent, but the data is less complete.”

Detroit News: “Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued an apology Sunday after a photo emerged showing her at a restaurant with 12 other people gathered around tables pushed together in violation of her health department’s current epidemic order.”

Whitmer rescinded a rule that limits restaurant tables to no more than six people, a day after she apologized for violating the COVID-19 regulation while gathering with friends at an East Lansing bar, the Associated Press reports.

The White House press briefing is now at 50% capacity — 24 of the 48 seats are filled — for first time in more than a year and first time in the Biden administration.  Press secretary Jen Psaki opened her comments saying that today’s briefing is “double the fun.”

An unnamed senior official on the National Security Council gave an extraordinary first-hand account of a suspected directed energy attack near the White House last November to the New Yorker.

Said the official: “It came on very suddenly… In a matter of about seven minutes, I went from feeling completely fine to thinking, ‘Oh, something’s not right,’ to being very, very worried and actually thinking I was going to die.”

I wonder if the U.S. is engaged in silent retaliation for these attacks.

A new Ifop poll in France finds Marine Le Pen is on course to knock out all possible mainstream party candidates and face Emmanuel Macron in a run-off in presidential elections next spring.

Le Pen, leader of the National Rally party, has advanced by two to three points in a month in a national first round, and would come first with up to 30% of the vote against Macron, with 28%.

“Florida on Monday became the first state to regulate how companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter moderate speech online, by imposing fines on social media companies that permanently bar political candidates in the state,” the New York Times reports.

“The law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is a direct response to Facebook’s and Twitter’s bans of former President Donald J. Trump in January.”

It’s impossible to see this law survive the inevitable court challenge.

New York Times: “A late amendment to the bill exempts companies from the law if they own a theme park or an entertainment venue larger than 25 acres. That means the law is unlikely to apply to websites owned by Disney, which operates the Walt Disney World Resort, and Comcast, which owns Universal Studios Florida.”

If the law isn’t struck down, expect Facebook and Twitter to start theme parks.

Associated Press: “Texas is poised to remove one of its last major gun restrictions after lawmakers approved allowing people to carry handguns without a license, and the background check and training that go with it.”

“The Justice Department late Monday night released part of a key internal document used in 2019 to justify not charging President Donald Trump with obstruction, but also signaled it would fight a judge’s effort to make the entire document public,” the Washington Post reports.

“The filing comes after a federal judge excoriated former U.S. attorney general William Barr — and the Justice Department more broadly — for their explanations of how and why it decided not to pursue a criminal case against Trump over possible obstruction of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.”

Former White House counsel Don McGahn has agreed to testify behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee sometime next week about Donald Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation, the New York Times reports.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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