- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Tuesday that he was opening the state “100%” and ending the mask mandate starting March 10, against health guidance from federal officials.
- Abbott justified his decision by noting that nearly 6 million Texans have been vaccinated and hospitalizations are down in the state.
- Experts, however, pointed out that less than 2 million of the state’s 29 million residents are fully inoculated, and the CDC currently ranks Texas 48th for vaccination rates out of all 50 states.
- On Tuesday alone, governors in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan as well as local leaders in Chicago and San Francisco also announced plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions.
Abbott Announces Major COVID Policy Changes
Starting March 10, Texas will no longer have a state-wide mask mandate or any coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and facilities, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday.
The move represents the most expansive reopening of any state and makes Texas the largest state to lift its public masking requirement. However, it also goes entirely against the recommendation of the nation’s top experts.
During a press conference Monday, Rochelle Walensky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned leaders against rolling back restrictions. She cited the fact that the recent nation-wide decline in cases has been stalling and that there has been community spread of the new variants — three of which have been found in Texas, saying:
“With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” she said.
“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” she continued.
“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”
Conditions in Texas
While cases have been declining in Texas, like most of the country, there is still a lot of data that makes Abbott’s decision especially concerning.
According to The New York Times tracker, Texas still ranks within the top ten states with the highest weekly cases per capita, reporting a weekly average of just over 7,200. Texas also has more hot-spot counties than any other state, according to Business Insider’s analysis of the Times data, which found that 10 counties have reported more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the last week.
Notably, that number could be skewed because of the massive drop in the testing due to a recent storm that left millions without power and clean water. In fact, experts have warned that Texas could see more COVID cases in the fallout of the storm because people were forced to shelter together.
Abbott, however, did not focus on any of that in his announcement. Instead, he cited other metrics, noting that nearly 5.7 Texans have been vaccinated. He also pointed to declines in hospitalizations.
But both of these justifications are misleading. While it is true that Texas has vaccinated close to 6 million people, according to the CDC, less than 2 million out of 29 million state residents have received both doses needed to be considered fully inoculated.
Beyond that, the CDC’s latest vaccination report ranks Texas 48th in vaccination rates out of all 50 states. Part of that is tied to the lag the state faced because of the storm, but experts still say this just proves that the state needs to be focus on catching up and vaccinating more people instead of rolling back restrictions.
To that point, public health officials have also pushed back against Abbott’s use of declining hospitalization rates as a rationale for his reopening plans. They warned that current hospitalization declines are already slowing and could reverse, and that will only get worse with reopenings.
Other States Reopen
Texas, however, is not the only state that has rolled back restrictions lately, or even just in the past 24 hours.
On Tuesday alone, the governors of Louisiana and Michigan as well as the mayors of Chicago and San Francisco all announced that they would be easing some restrictions on businesses and/or the capacity at which they operate.
Right after Abbott’s announcement, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) made a nearly identical one with an even shorter timeline. In a tweet, he said that starting Wednesday, he would lift all county mask mandates and allow businesses to “operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules.”
The recent easing of restrictions is part of a broader trend — and not just in states that have Republican governors or large conservative populations.
While California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) slammed Abbott’s move as “absolutely reckless,” he has also been widely condemned by leaders in his state for recently rolling back numerous restrictions.
Over the last few weeks, the Democratic governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and New York have all also lifted or otherwise modified regulations to make them less restrictive.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Dallas Morning News) (Business Insider)
Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium
The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.
Eviction Freeze Set To Expire
President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.
The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.
While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.
In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress.
“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Delays in Relief Distribution
The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.
Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.
A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires.
The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape.
Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.
According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 — including New York — had not spent any funds at all.
Slim Chances in Congress
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.
However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.
While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.
Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.
“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”
With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.
Pelosi Vetoes Republicans
Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.
In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”
Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden.
A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.
The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.
In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.
McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation
McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.
In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.”
“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel.
“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.