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Senate Democrats and Republicans Reach Agreement With White House on $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

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  • After a long day of talks, Senate Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement with the White House on a stimulus package that would now cost the government $2 trillion.
  • On Monday, Democrats shot down a stimulus package designed by Republicans and the White House.
  • The revised package would include an increase in unemployment pay as well as an extension to unemployment insurance.
  • It would also provide $500 billion to companies but would bar President Donald Trump, White House officials, and Congress from taking out loans for their businesses.

Senate Leaders and the White House Reach a Deal

After long talks and worries that lawmakers would go home empty-handed Tuesday, Senate Democrats finally reached a historic $2 trillion stimulus package with Senate Republicans and the Trump Administration around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The agreement, which comes after Senate Democrats blocked a different version of the bill on Monday, includes several noticeable differences.

While Republicans had sought to extend unemployment insurance for up to three months, Democrats convinced them to extend that program for up to four months. Additionally, the bill would reportedly expand eligibility to cover more people, including gig economy workers. 

People eligible for benefits will also see an additional $600 each week from the federal government, on top of their state benefits. On average, people receive $385 in state benefits each week while on unemployment.

The bill also includes $150 billion to hospitals and other health-care providers for equipment and supplies. According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the bill will also increase Medicare payments to all hospitals and providers.

As for direct checks, that breakdown remains unchanged. Adults making under $75,000 would receive two $1,200 checks and two $500 checks for each child. The first of those payments would go out on April 6.

People making above $75,000 would see a dip in that assistance, with payments phasing out altogether for people making more than $99,000 a year. 

Trump and Congress Can’t Benefit From Business Loans

The bill also provides loan options for both small and large businesses. 

Small businesses would receive more than $350 in aid. Notably, those loans would be federally guaranteed as long as a small business pledges not to lay off workers. If an employer continues to pay workers for the duration of the crisis, those loans would then be forgiven.

Big businesses would still receive about $500 billion to be used as back loans and assistance, a provision that originally led Democrats to vote down the previous version of the bill on Monday. 

However, this bill also contains a few key limitations.

The most buzzworthy is that Democrats won language barring any business owned by President Trump from applying for those loans. That includes both Trump hotels and Mar-a-lago. Democrats sought such a measure because of their concern that Trump might try to use this bill to help his businesses, especially since many of them are connected to the travel industry.

Because they barred Trump, the bill also went a step further by also barring White House officials as well as any member of Congress. 

Another limitation is that if a company does take out a loan, it will then be subject to a ban on stock buybacks through the term of the loan and for one year after. 

Republicans also agreed to allow for an oversight board and to create a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery. That is largely an attempt by the Democrats to ensure companies limit executive bonuses as well as take steps to protect workers.

Will the Bill Help the Economy and Will It Pass?

As far as if this bill actually will help the economy, that’s still unclear. With an economy that is slowing down every day and with stocks plunging over the last month, there is worry that it may not do enough; however, with more of the details of this package, stocks did see an uptick Tuesday morning. 

Still, Congress is trying to move this bill into law as soon as possible. Reportedly, they’re rushing it through without public hearings or a formal review of the full bill.

If it passes through the Senate as expected, then it moves to the House of Representatives. Here, things could get a little trickier.

“This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday. “House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action.”

While Pelosi did say that the bill meets some of Democrats’ demands, she didn’t say how the House would vote. On Tuesday, as the agreement was being discussed among Senators and the White House, Pelosi said on CNBC that she hoped the House would pass it with unanimous consent.

While lawmakers are under extreme pressure to get a bill like this passed, unanimous consent may be a tall order for a $2 trillion bill that covers every aspect of the U.S. economy, especially because while the details of the bill have been released, the full document is still under wraps.

Because of that, it’s very possible that some lawmakers might hold off on passing the bill until a formal vote is held, and there have already been some concerns from both sides of the aisle.

If unanimous consent isn’t possible, some version—possibly a very similar version—of this bill will likely get passed; however, taking a formal vote could extend this process by several days. This is because representatives will likely be encouraged to wait an extended amount of time between their trips to the floor to vote.

From there, a couple things could happen. The House could pass a slightly different version. The House and the Senate would then need to hash out those details.

Or, the House could pass the legislation as is and go directly to Trump, who Mnuchin said would “absolutely, absolutely, absolutely” sign the bill.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Los Angeles Times) (CNN)

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U.S. To Join WHO-led Vaccine Distribution Plan as Biden Implements a Flurry of COVID-19 Executive Orders

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  • Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated Thursday that President Joe Biden will join COVAX, a World Health Organization-led COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.
  • Fauci’s announcement comes one day after Biden signed an executive order reversing former President Donald Trump’s plan to remove the United States from the WHO. 
  • Among other orders, Biden plans to implement a mask mandate for airports, planes, trains, and other forms of interstate travel. He has already ordered masks to be worn on all federal property. 
  • Biden is also expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday, which would speed up the development and distribution of vaccine-related equipment.

U.S. To Join COVAX

Just one day after President Joe Biden signed an order to keep the United States in the World Health Organization, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country will join its global COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.

That plan, COVAX, is a collaborative effort between 92 countries to ensure that COVID vaccines aren’t only distributed in wealthy countries.

The idea behind the plan is that establishing a global herd immunity will be much more effective at curbing the spread of the virus than just establishing herd immunity in countries that can afford to buy large quantities of the vaccine, especially when international travel picks back up. 

The plan is not without its shortcomings. Earlier this week, the WHO stated that some countries participating in COVAX have been disregarding the plan and buying large quantities of vaccines for themselves.

Nonetheless, in a video conference call Thursday morning with the WHO’s executive board, Fauci — now chief medical advisor to the president — said the Biden administration believes it can inoculate every American while also helping people in other countries.

Biden’s plan to join COVAX is a stark contrast from the Trump administration, which refused to participate in the program. 

Fauci said Biden will issue the directive to join COVAX later Thursday. 

Additionally, Fauci noted that the U.S. once again “intends to fulfill its financial obligations” to the WHO. 

In his attempt to leave the organization, Trump cut off payments from the U.S.; however, his administration never got the chance to fully cut ties with the organization because the U.S. wasn’t scheduled to officially leave until July of this year. 

Biden Signs Mask Mandate, Other Orders To Come

Among other COVID-related executive orders signed Wednesday, Biden implemented a national mask mandate for people on federal property. 

Sometime Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign another order requiring masks to be worn in airports, as well as on airplanes, trains, and other interstate transit systems.

Also on Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign an order that will establish a COVID-19 testing board. Once implemented, the board will be responsible for increasing testing rates, addressing supply shortfalls, and determining the rules and regulations for international travelers coming into the U.S. It will also have the power to distribute resources to minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus.

On top of that, Biden plans to sign an order that will direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states and Native American tribes for their emergency response efforts. Notably, those reimbursements include costs related to reopening schools.

Finally, Biden is expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday. Such a move would speed up the production of masks and other equipment needed to help administer vaccines.  

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Reuters) (CNBC)

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Trump Issues Over 140 Pardons and Commutations Ahead of Biden’s Inauguration

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  • In his last moments in office, now-former President Donald Trump granted clemency to more than 140 people at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.
  • Among the notable pardons and commutations were rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Trump megadonor Elliott Broidy.
  • Trump’s final round of clemency did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reform advocates.
  • Still, many also condemned Trump for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have been rehabilitated. Instead, critics feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.

Trump Grants Clemency

Former President Donald Trump issued more than 140 pardons and commutations at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, just hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The move marks Trump’s final major act before the end of his term. Many of the most notable pardons and commutations were given to people whose names had been circulating in reports earlier this week, including rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, as well as former adviser Steve Bannon.

Bannon’s pardon is especially significant because he has not yet stood trial for the charges he faces. The charges against Trump’s former right-hand man center around allegations that he defrauded half a million people who donated to a crowdsourcing campaign to fund the construction of the border wall.

The leaders of the charity, aptly named We Build the Wall, had claimed that the more than $25 million they had solicited in donations would go to their goal, but prosecutors claim that Bannon took $1 million for his own personal expenses.

Bannon’s pardon is also significant because, according to reports, the reason the clemency announcements were late was because Trump could not decide whether or not to pardon him. However, as The Washington Post notes, Trump’s ultimate decision “underscores how Trump has used his presidential power to benefit allies and political backers.”

Trump has recently granted pardons to several of his former top aides, many of whom seem to have a knack for committing crimes for him.

At the end of last year, he pardoned his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his close friend and adviser, Roger Stone. All three had been convicted of crimes during the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In this newest batch of clemency grants, the former president also pardoned Elliott Broidy, a top Trump campaign fundraiser. Broidy pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws and accepting millions of dollars as part of a secret campaign to lobby the administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests.

Trump additionally pardoned a number of politicians who have been indicted for corruption, including three former Republican members of Congress and one former Democratic mayor.

Those Left Out

Trump’s last round of pardons and commutations did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reformers. One of those individuals was Chris Young, a man who had been sentenced to life for drug conspiracy, and whose commutation Kim Kardashian West had lobbied.

But in general, Trump has largely been condemned by criminal justice advocates for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have rehabilitated. Instead, they feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.

Despite the attention some of his pardons have received, either because they had celebrity power behind them or were controversial, Trump has actually approved fewer clemency requests than most previous presidents who served one term or less. Until this week, he had only granted clemency to 95 people.

Also of note are the controversial pardons that Trump was reportedly considering but ultimately decided against. These included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and “Tiger King” star Joe Exotic, the latter of whom was so sure he would be pardoned that he had a limo waiting for him outside his prison.

Trump was also reportedly considering preemptively pardoning himself and his children, but he apparently decided against the move. In addition to a self-pardon being questionably unconstitutional, any clemency for the former president and his family would require them to admit they committed crimes they have not yet been charged with.

While Trump decided against becoming the first president to ever pardon himself, the fact that he decided to give clemency to so many of his allies might pose some issues.

President Bill Clinton faced both congressional and criminal investigations for giving out 140 pardons and commutations on his final day in office in 2001, though notably, no wrongdoing was ultimately found. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert Accused of Leading Capitol Tour Before Insurrection

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  • Rep. Steve Cohen told CNN Monday that he and another lawmaker personally saw GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert guiding a “large” group of people around the Capitol days before the insurrection.
  • Numerous representatives have said they saw GOP members leading an unusual amount of tours before the riots. They also said some of the visitors were involved with the rally that preceded the attack.
  • Boebert preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week before any official accused her by name.
  • She reiterated that denial in a statement responding to Cohen’s accusations and claimed that she had only ever given a tour to members of her family.

Rep. Cohen’s Claims

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tn.) said Monday that he and a fellow Democratic member of Congress personally witnessed Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) leading a “large” group of people around the Capitol complex in the days before the violent attacks on Jan. 6.

While speaking on CNN, Cohen said that he and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) “saw Boebert taking a group of people for a tour sometime after the 3rd and before the 6th.”

“I don’t remember the day we were walking in a tunnel and we saw her and commented who she was and she had a large group with her,” he continued. “Now whether these people were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know.”

Notably, Cohen said he did not know who was in the group or if they were part of the attack. That fact was also echoed by Yarmuth, who confirmed in a statement that he did see Boebert with a group of people around her but added that he “has no knowledge of who they were or if they were with her.”

Over the last few weeks, dozens of Democrats have been demanding that officials investigate whether or not Republican lawmakers aided in the riots. Last Tuesday, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) told reporters she saw some of her GOP colleagues leading “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol with people who she later saw during the riots.

The following day, 31 House Democrats signed a letter claiming they and some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol on Jan. 5.

“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” they wrote. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” 

Boebert’s Checkered Record

Until Monday, no lawmakers had named any of the members involved in the alleged tours, but many outlets and political analysts both implicitly and explicitly tied Boebert to the accusations.

In her roughly two-week-long tenure as a member of Congress, the young Republican has received significant heat for her role in the insurrection among other recent, controversial moves. 

Last week, Boebert was temporarily banned from Twitter and faced numerous calls to resign for tweeting out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s location during the insurrection.

She has also been widely criticized for publicly announcing she would bring her gun to the Capitol complex, refusing to have her bag searched after she set off a metal detector, and voting to invalidate millions of votes by objecting to the certification of the electoral college.

In fact, Boebert has faced so much scrutiny that she preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week, even before anyone directly named her. At the time, she issued a statement saying she has only ever given a tour to her children, husband, mother, aunt, and uncle.

Boebert reiterated those claims in a letter to Cohen Monday, where she called his remarks “categorically false.”

“I have never given a tour of the U.S. Capitol to any outside group,” she wrote. “As I previously stated, I brought my family to the Capitol on January 2nd for a tour and on the 3rd for pictures to commemorate the day I was sworn in as a Member of the U.S. Congress.” 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (CPR News

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