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Congress Faces Make-or-Break Week on Stimulus, Government Funding, and Defense Bill

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  • Congress is facing three major deadlines this week: the stimulus bill, the government funding bill, and a defense bill that provides troop raises. All three, however, remain up in the air.
  • Democratic leaders and key Republican senators have said they will support the bipartisan $908 billion stimulus bill, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell has refused to sign on.
  • If lawmakers don’t finish hashing out the final details of the $1.4 trillion government funding bill, the government will shut down on Friday.
  • Lawmakers have floated a one-week extension that would give them more time to debate the government funding bill and the stimulus package, which will likely be tacked on to the omnibus spending legislation.
  • While both chambers are set to approve the annual defense spending bill this week, President Trump has threatened to veto the bipartisan legislation that has been signed into law for 59 straight years unless it repeals Section 230, an entirely unrelated law that grants legal protections for social media companies.

Stimulus Package

Congress is headed for a busy and chaotic week as lawmakers near key deadlines to pass another coronavirus relief stimulus package, government funding legislation, and the defense budget bill. 

Members have recently made some of the most concrete strides towards the approval of a stimulus bill after a bipartisan group of senators announced a $908 billion stimulus proposal last week.

Among other things, that proposal includes an additional $300 a week in expanded unemployment benefits, $288 billion for loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program and other similar programs, $160 billion for state and local governments, $25 billion in housing assistance, and short-term federal protections for businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

While many senators have agreed to the idea in principle, the bipartisan group has not yet rolled out an official bill with formal language laying out these policies, though they are expected to do so by Monday night.

However, even if the group does reach an agreement among themselves, the question still remains: will leadership sign on?

Democratic leaders did throw their support behind the general bipartisan proposal last week, but they were careful with the phrasing of their endorsement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) both agreed to the plan as a basis for negotiations.

McConnell Refuses to Sign On

When it comes to the country’s top Republicans, it is a very different story. Even as more and more key rank and file Republican Senators have signaled their approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has still refused to embrace the bipartisan plan.

For months McConnell repeatedly claimed Democrats were the sole reason there was not a proposal because they would not compromise with Republicans. In reality, both sides were guilty of not budging from the plans they wanted.

Now that Democrats have agreed to make concessions and strike an agreement, McConnell is refusing to do the same. Still, the Senate leader continued to call for bipartisanship last week while also proposing his own plan that breaks drastically with top Democratic priorities.

McConnell’s plan, which is very similar to the previous bill he already brought to the floor in recent months that has now failed to pass twice, also lacks numerous provisions Democrats have made clear must be in any legislation they agree to.

Most significantly, McConnell’s proposal does not include any federal unemployment benefits, despite the fact that he knows that extending federal joblessness aid is a dealbreaker for Democrats.

Even more perplexing is the fact that extended joblessness is also something Republicans have generally agreed to, though they differ on how much benefits should be allocated.

Trump’s Role in Stimulus

Despite McConnell’s insistence, even some of the staunchest Republicans have said his plan is not a good idea.

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) told reporters that while he would support what the leader wants to propose but, “it doesn’t have any Democratic support. I’m tired of doing show votes here.”

Graham also said that he supports the $908 billion bipartisan deal. and added that he has talked to President Donald Trump about the plan “extensively.” As for Trump, he has been largely quiet and uninvolved in the most recent round of negotiations.

He has largely delegated the process to McConnell, who has used the position to push for the proposal he wants, arguing last week that Trump would veto the $908 billion deal. However, McConnell’s claims seem to be at odds with comments from Graham and other key Republicans.

On Sunday, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), one of the lawmakers leading the bipartisan deal, told Fox News that Trump has in fact indicated he would sign onto the $908 billion proposal. 

Trump, for his part, has offered vague mixed messages to the public. When asked by a reporter Thursday if he supported “this bill,” Trump said he would, though it was not clear which proposal he meant. A spokesperson later clarified that the president had meant McConnell’s plan, that does not mean he would veto a bigger one if it was sent to his desk.

Government Funding Bill

While many have said this week is basically make-or-break for any hopes of a stimulus before Biden takes office, there have also been talks among leadership of tacking the bill onto the massive year-end spending package.

At the end of every calendar year, Congress must pass a bill to fund the government through the next fiscal year. If they do not pass that legislation by the slotted deadline, which this year is Dec. 11, the federal government will shut down.

Congressional leaders have agreed in principle to a massive $1.4 trillion omnibus bill, but there are still some details that are being worked out, including President Trump’s demand for the border wall funding and disputes over a Veterans Affairs health funding cap, among other things.

Notably, given the number of differences remaining on this spending bill as well as a coronavirus relief bill, it has been reported that members will likely pass a one-week stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown and give themselves another week to sort everything out.

Meaning that if the stimulus bill is incorporated into this much larger spending bill, Congress will also have another week to find common ground there as well. It’s unclear if an agreement will be reached after months of deadlock.

If they do not agree on something either this week or next week, assuming they approve this stopgap extension, it is almost certain there will not be another stimulus bill until president-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Biden has said it will be a priority of his to pass a stimulus package regardless of whether or not Congress approves this $908 billion one, that would still mean Americans would have to go more than a month without the desperately needed aid.

Unless federal unemployment programs and evictions moratoriums are extended, upwards of 12 million people are subject to lose all their benefits entirely by the end of the year, and as many as 6.7 million renter households — or roughly 19 million people — will risk being evicted in the coming months. 

Defense Funding Bill

While both the stimulus proposal and the government funding bill will likely be up in the air for another two weeks, there is at least one vote Congress is expected to hold soon, the annual bill that funds the Department of Defense.

That bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is set to be voted on by the House tomorrow and the Senate sometime later this week. While it is expected to pass both chambers with huge bipartisan majorities, the problem here lies with President Trump.

Despite the fact that the NDAA is a bipartisan bill that has been signed into law for 59 straight years, Trump has threatened to veto the $740 billion bill unless Congress agrees to repeal Section 230 — a completely unrelated 1996 law that gives social media companies the ability to moderate posts on their platforms without liability. 

Trump has recently argued that the section is a threat to national security. However, he has not provided any evidence for this claim. He also has not given any other reasons why he will veto the bill that funds the military and gives raises to troops and military readiness unless Congress repeals a totally unrelated legal shield for social media companies.

Many believe he simply is angry that Twitter has been flagging his tweets for spreading misinformation about the election, and as a result, no such repeal or amendment of the section is included in the current version of the NDAA set to be approved by both chambers this week.

Notably, if Trump does veto the bill, it is very possible he will be overridden. House Democrats have said they will have a two-thirds majority in the House to override the veto, and many Republicans in the Senate have also signaled they would vote to override.

Even if they fail to override the veto, the bill could easily be passed again when Biden takes office in January. Still, this will be a key moment to watch because if Trump’s veto is overridden, it would be a massive rebuke that comes right as he is no longer about to be president.

In addition to not including the Section 230 repeal, the bill contains other provisions that Trump has openly opposed. This is removing Confederate names from army bases — a measure Trump separately threatened to veto over in June but has not mentioned in recent months. The bill is also taking aim at other Trump policies like his troop withdrawals and border wall. 

Trump, for his part, has spent most of his free time railing against the election outcome and continuing to spread false claims, and it is currently unclear how he will ultimately fit into Congress’ schedule as it rushes to wrap up the session before the December holidays.

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

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Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit, Investigation for “Human Trafficking” of Migrants

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A woman only known as “Pearla” allegedly lured the desperate migrants onto planes with monetary incentives and false promises.


A Political Stunt Blows Up in the Governor’s Face

After unexpectedly flying some 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is staring down a class action lawsuit, a local investigation, and a potential probe from the Justice Department.

On Tuesday, Lawyers for Civil Rights, in conjunction with the nonprofit Alianza Americas filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants. The filing names DeSantis, the state of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and their accomplices as defendants.

It alleges they fraudulently induced the migrants to cross state lines to Martha’s Vineyard, where shelter and resources were not prepared.

According to several accounts, the migrants were falsely promised work, free rent, and immigration assistance in exchange for taking the trip.

The migrants are seeking unspecified damages on top of the cost of their legal fees for emotional and economic harm.

On Monday, Texas Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced that he was opening an investigation into the migrant flights and DeSantis’s role in the scheme, which he called an “abuse of human rights.”

“They feel that they were deceived in being taken from Bexar County — from San Antonio, Texas — to where they eventually ended up,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “That could be a crime here in Texas and we will handle it as such.”

Salazar also said in a statement that his office was working with private attorneys representing the victims and advocacy organizations and that he was prepared to work with “any federal agency with concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.”

Since making the announcement, the sheriff’s office has been bombarded by threats via phone and email, according to a statement by a spokesperson.

Dylan Fernandes, a Massachusetts state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard, called on the DoJ to launch a human trafficking probe into DeSantis Sunday.

He wrote on Twitter about the “inhumane acts,” saying, “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”

A Mysterious Woman Named Pearla

Several migrants have told reporters, and claimed in the class action lawsuit, that they were lured onto the planes by a tall, blonde woman calling herself Pearla.

She reportedly approached them outside the San Antonio shelter, on the street, and in a McDonald’s parking lot, talking to them in broken Spanish.

Eduardo Linares, a migrant who said he rejected Pearla’s offer, told The Boston Globe that she promised them a free trip to Massachusetts and guaranteed work.

Another migrant named Alejandro told the outlet she offered him three months of free rent, job placement, and help with his immigration case.

The San Antonio Report interviewed a migrant named Emmanuel who said Pearla paid him $200 to recruit other migrants for the flights.

Tuesday’s lawsuit filing elaborates on their claims, saying that they were enticed with $10 McDonald’s gift cards to fly to Boston or Washington.

It alleges that the migrants were rounded up in hotel rooms while the scheme’s organizers gathered enough people to fill two planes, with them sequestered so they could not discuss the plan with anyone else.

“Once the individual Plaintiffs and class members landed, it became clear that the promises made to induce them on the planes were in fact bold-faced lies,” the filing says.

DeSantis defended himself on Fox News Monday night, saying, “They all signed consent forms to go and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard, it has the number for different services that are on Martha’s Vineyard.”

The brochures given to the migrants, however, listed services for refugees, not asylum seekers, and some migrants have said they weren’t aware of this fact. If the migrants were misled, the participants in the scheme could be criminally liable.

Who Pearla is and who employs her is still unknown, but DeSantis has publically taken credit for chartering the flights.

The League of United Latin American Citizens is offering $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of Pearla.

Two days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants voluntarily took shelter in a Cape Cod military base, which is designed for such emergency purposes.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vice) (The Boston Globe)

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Is The Pandemic Really Over? Experts Bristle at Biden’s Declaration

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Top Republicans took the president’s words as a signal not to approve any more funds for COVID relief.


The Pandemic’s End

“The pandemic is over,” declared President Joe Biden in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night.

“We still have a problem with COVID,” he said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”

“If you notice, no one is wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing, and I think this is a perfect example of it,” he added, gesturing around at last week’s Detroit Auto Show, where the interview took place.

The president’s remarks turned many heads among public health experts, who have pointed out that 400 to 500 Americans continue to die from COVID-19 every day.

“We’ve had two million cases reported over the last 28 days, and we know underreporting is substantial,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times.

“COVID-19 continues to be the number four cause of death in the country,” he added.

Others argued that the U.S. president does not have the authority to declare a pandemic over. Only the World Health Organization, which first declared the coronavirus a global pandemic in early 2020, holds that power.

“We are not there yet,” WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “But the end is in sight.”

To Care or Not to Care: That is the White House’s Question

Biden’s relatively relaxed attitude toward the virus on “60 Minutes” contradicted his administration’s official policy, which aids have been quick to clarify remains the same. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the government’s declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency, which enables it to waive or modify requirements for health-related programs like Medicare and Medicaid, remains in effect. That designation, however, will be up for renewal on October 13.

The White House has also been pushing Congress to allocate another $22 billion toward fighting the pandemic, but top Republicans said Monday that Biden’s comment declaring the pandemic over essentially shuts the door on further aid.

“If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) in response Monday.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, added, “I don’t think they were going to get any Covid money through anyway.”

The Biden administration continues to encourage Americans to get the newly authorized “bivalent” COVID-19 booster shot, which provides protection against both the original strain and the omicron subvariants.

The booster shot could prevent as many as 10,000 deaths and 137,000 hospitalizations in the coming months, according to one estimate by Matthew Daley, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everybody over the age of 12, and those who are older, pregnant, immunocompromised, or have a chronic illness, in particular, get the booster as soon as possible. But while most Americans have been vaccinated at least once, less than half have gotten their first booster shot, according to CDC data.

New York Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday that vaccine mandates for private employers will end in November, though public employees will still be required to have a vaccine. The day prior, Starbucks also lifted some COVID policies, announcing that its workers will no longer get two weeks of sick pay for coronavirus infections starting on October 2.

In its statement, the company described the pandemic as entering the “endemic” phase.

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

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Trump Plays QAnon Music During Conspiracy-Ridden Speech in Ohio

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In recent weeks, the former president has made explicit gestures to QAnon on Truth Social.


The One-Finger Salute Becomes Trump’s Latest Rallying Symbol

In one of his clearest endorsements of the conspiracy theory yet, former president Donald Trump played a QAnon theme song during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio on Saturday.

Trump was there to support Senate candidate JD Vance ahead of November’s midterm elections. As the night’s rally came to a close, the former president delivered an eight-minute monologue while dramatic string music provided ambiance.

Experts identified the song as “WWG1WGA,” an acronym for the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.”

But Trump aids who spoke to The New York Times claimed it was in fact a song called “Mirrors” by film and TV composer Will Van De Crommer.

“The fake news, in a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America, is brewing up another conspiracy about a royalty-free song from a popular audio library platform,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, told the outlet.

When Trump posted a video to Truth Social containing the same music last month, however, music professor David Dominique told Vice the two songs were indistinguishable.

“I have listened to both [‘Mirrors’ and ‘WWG1WGA’] closely several times now,” he said. “And I have 100% professional confidence these recordings are identical, not even a reinterpretation of a composition, but the same recording.”

Media Matters also analyzed the songs using the software Audacity and found their audio profiles to be “virtually identical.”

When the song played on Saturday, dozens of people in the audience saluted with one finger extended in the air, a gesture Trump aids told The Times they have never seen at one of the former president’s rallies before.

The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, who has a book about QAnon coming out next year, called the salute “curious” in a Twitter thread.

“Some on Twitter are calling it a QAnon salute, with 1 finger for ‘Where we go 1,’ and Trump is playing a pro-Q song as he talks,” he wrote. “I’ve never seen this happen before, though, so if it’s a Q thing it’s new.”

He added the caveat: “The one finger thing might also be for ‘America First.’ The white nationalist groypers, for example, do a one finger salute for that reason.”

Trump Warms to QAnon

QAnon is a conspiracy theory encompassing a wide range of beliefs, but the most common iteration posits that Trump is locked in a secret struggle against a global cabal of Democratic elites and satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.

The Trump administration generally kept its distance from the movement throughout most of his term, then the former president began to signal his sympathy for it as the 2020 election drew closer.

He congratulated Marjorie Taylor Greene, a prominent politician who has expressed belief in QAnon, for winning Georgia’s GOP primary.

When asked about QAnon a few days later, Trump told the press corps, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”

One reporter followed up by asking him specifically about the idea that he was serving as a warrior against a satanic cabal of pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”

Late last month, the former president created and shared a flurry of posts on Truth Social that were explicitly related to QAnon.

In one, he reposted the slogan “Where We Go One We Go All,” and in another, he reposted a 2017 message from “Q,” the anonymous persona at the center of the conspiracy theory, criticizing the intelligence community. The string of posts came one day after he demanded to be reinstated as president, and just weeks after the FBI executed a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Last week, Trump posted a meme of himself wearing a Q lapel pin with the words “The storm is coming” superimposed over it. In QAnon lore, “the storm” refers to the imminent return of Trump to the White House and subsequent mass arrest of the deep-state cabal.

In May 2021, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a survey of Americans’ belief in specific QAnon-related conspiracies.

Around 15% of respondents, equivalent to nearly 50 million people if extrapolated to the general population, agreed with the statement: “The government, media and financial world in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (The Washington Post) (PBS)

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