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Tag: covid relief

Here’s Who Got Rich From Trump’s Disastrous Response To The Pandemic

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

Now that we're all unmasking and the economy seems set to roar into the 2020s, what will we remember about how disastrously, how malignantly, the Trump administration behaved as the pandemic took hold? And will anyone be held to account for it?

The instinct to forget pandemics, as I've pointed out when it came to the 1918 "Spanish flu," has historically been strong indeed. In these years, the urge to forget official malfeasance and move on has, it turns out, been at least as strong. Washington's failure to investigate and bring to account those who led the nation and ultimately the world into the folly of the Iraq War may be the most egregious recent example of this.

In the end, that's why I wrote my new book Virus — to memorialize a clear and accessible historical record of the deliberate and deadly decision-making that swept us all into a kind of hell. I had the urge to try to stop what happened to us from being instantly buried in the next round of daily reporting or, as appears likely now, relegated to the occasional voluminous government or foundation report on how to do things better.

In the early months of 2020, as rumors of distant death morphed into announcements of an imminent pandemic, followed by a patchwork of state and local lockdowns, most Americans were too stunned by daily events to absorb the bigger picture. Memories of those days still click by like surreal snapshots: prepper shopping, toilet-paper hoarders, forklifts moving bodies into refrigerated trucks, and a capricious leader on TV night after endless night talking about quack cures, his own ratings, and how he "liked the numbers low." Meanwhile, he left desperate states to compete with each other for badly needed protective gear.

What looked like chaos or ad hoc decision-making by an improbably elected fraudster president was, in fact, deeply rooted in ideology; specifically, in the belief that the job of the government was neither to exercise leadership, nor activate government agencies to assist the American people. It was to promote private industry and its profits as the solution to anything and everything pandemic.

That ideology led to profiteering, politicized science, and mass death. Now, as the pandemic wanes (at least for the time being, though not necessarily for the unvaccinated) in this country, it deserves an investigation. Somewhere between almost 600,000 and more than 900,000Americans have died so far from Covid-19, a significant number of those deaths unnecessary, as even the former administration's medical expert, Dr Deborah Birx, has said.

The virus arrived in America after the Trump administration — steered by right-wing Heritage Foundation policy wonks and their donor-class comrades — had already laid waste to key agencies like Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control. Their instant response to the pandemic was to similarly sideline government emergency-management experts, put inexperienced 20-something volunteers in charge of finding and distributing protective gear, and circulate lists of possible suppliers — one of whom, typically enough, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with no medical contracting experience, snagged a cool $86-million contract from the state of New York for ventilators he would never deliver.

While most of the country hunkered down in a state of stunned paralysis, a faction of Trumpworld recognized the pandemic not for what it took away — human lives and livelihoods — but for what it offered. The chaos of the moment allowed them to road-test their dream system, to prove once and for all that the forces of supply and demand, the instinct to make a buck, could do a better job managing a natural disaster than the government of the United States and its bureaucrats.

Is any of this likely to be investigated? Will anyone be held accountable for what appears to have been a response deliberately mismanaged by religious zealots and crony capitalists, crews equally cynical about expertise, science, and the government's ability to prevent or ameliorate disaster?

What We Don't Know About The Trump Pandemic Disaster

Here, as a start, is a rundown of where inquiries into that disaster now stand.

Buried in the alphabet soup of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act is the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), established in March 2020 to keep track of the federal money (by now $5.5 trillion) that was to be spent on the pandemic. It's a consortium of agency inspector generals, headed by Michael Horowitz, a career Department of Justice lawyer. His name will be familiar to anyone who followed the Trump-Russia investigations. He produced a report in 2019 that — to the dismay of Trump's supporters — failed to conclude that the FBI had begun investigating connections between Vladimir Putin's Russia and the Trump campaign without legal cause and as a political dirty trick.

PRAC is authorized to conduct oversight of pandemic-related emergency spending of any sort. Its inspector generals have already issued nearly 200 pandemic-related oversight reports and charged 474 people with trying to steal more than $569 million. (Details in its quarterly reports are available online.)

While PRAC has been genuinely nonpartisan in its acts, its focus so far has been on the small fry of the pandemic era, not the truly big fish. In its most recent semi-annual report, for example, it makes clear that 55 percent of its charges had to do with fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program and 40 percent were related to fraudulent unemployment assistance claims. Among the bigger PRAC successes: charging a Texas man in a $24-million Covid-relief fraudulent loan scheme last October and seven men in another fraud scheme in which they used their ill-gotten pandemic gains to buy, among other things, a Porsche and a Lamborghini.

The CARES Act also authorized the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to monitor the federal response to the pandemic. Its most recent semi-annual report included 16 recommendations in selected public-health areas like testing, vaccines, and therapeutics, only one of which has so far been implemented. A source at the GAO told me that a report on some contracting irregularities can be expected this summer.

So far, such government self-assessments have shown little appetite for dealing with the true cronyism, profiteering, and disastrous politicization of the federal pandemic response by Trump's minions. Among the schemes begging for a deeper look is Operation Airbridge. Led by the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, it was an attempt to use federal funds to underwrite the air-shipping costs of private companies in an effort to speed the delivery of the kinds of personal protective equipment that were in such short supply last spring. That unorthodox effort included large no-bid contracts granted to a small group of private health-care companies without restrictions on pricing or even on where the desperately needed products were to be delivered.

In the spring of 2020, as hospital workers began popping up on social media and network news programs clad only in garbage bags and makeshift or reused face masks, sometimes in tears and pleading for help, the White House maintained its focus on private enterprise as the way out of the disaster. The administration called for volunteers to staff what would become another public/private bonanza, the White House Covid-19 Supply Chain Task Force, also helmed by Trump family fixer, Jared Kushner.

We don't know what, if anything, Kushner's group actually accomplished. The audacity of the former administration's disregard for federal rules and regulations coupled with the scale of the no-bid contracts they issued certainly attracted political pushback at the time. Democrats and civil-society groups in Washington filed requests for more information about how such contracts had eluded federal guidelines, and where the supplies actually went.

It's possible, however, that we may never know.

Ventilating Money

In April 2020, a group of Democratic senators led by Elizabeth Warren, citing the administration's secrecy, opened an investigation into the operation. They sent a letter to the six Operation Airbridge beneficiary health-care giants — Cardinal Health, Concordance, Henry Schein, McKesson, Medline, and Owens & Minor — requesting explanations for reports of "political favoritism, cronyism, and price-gouging" in the ongoing supply effort. "Taxpayers have shelled out tens of millions of dollars on this secretive project and they deserve to know whether it actually helped get critical supplies to the areas most in need," Warren said that June.

Three of the six suppliers did, in the end, give the senators copies of memorandums of agreement (MOAs) indicating that they "had complete discretion about how to distribute supplies across hotspot counties" and that "nothing in the MOAs appears to prevent a supplier from sending all of its supplies designated for hotspots to just a single customer in one of the hotspots." The government hadn't, in fact, put any kind of conditions on the cost for that protective equipment and the Trump Justice Department would insist that it was none of its business how suppliers arrived at the prices they charged for it.

Using taxpayer funds to grease private enrichment was, of course, a Trump family tradition, going back to the Eisenhower years when Donald's father, Fred, fleeced the government of millions of dollars in loans aimed at housing World War II veterans. Hauled down to Capitol Hill to explain himself, the New York builder was unrepentant, arguing that a loophole in the law allowed for his private gain and, under such circumstances, only a fool would have left all that money on the table.

What, from the outside, came to look like White House inspired chaos — of which Operation Airbridge was just one example — should, in fact, be seen as a deliberate effort to disengage the federal government and leave the blame and the logistics problems to Covid-afflicted states, at the time mostly run by Democrats.

On March 24, 2020, for instance, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo begged the federal government to help get more ventilators for what was clearly going to be a surge of coronavirus patients. (New York City's health-care system was already overwhelmed by then.) At the time, hooking patients up to ventilators seemed like the best way to go, though doctors later realized that, for many patients, the tricky disease could be foiled earlier with anticlotting and steroid medication.

"How can you have New Yorkers possibly dying because they can't get a ventilator?" asked Cuomo. Three days later, Trump tweeted, "General Motors must… start making ventilators, now! Ford, get going on ventilators, fast!"

Yaron Oren-Pines, an electrical engineer for tech firms like Google, tweeted back at the president, "We can supply ICU ventilators, invasive and non-invasive." Within days, he turned up on a list vetted by Kushner's team of volunteers and, at their recommendation, officials in New York closed a deal with him.

The only problem: Oren-Pines had no ventilators and had never been in the medical supply business. When he failed to deliver on the $86 million deal, Wells Fargo froze his account and New York canceled the order, demanding the money back, though by summer 2020, it had yet to collect a final $10 million.

The Great Forgetting?

In addition to making various large or politically well-connected health-care companies far wealthier, the administration also lavished staggering billions on a small group of Big Pharma firms for Operation Warp Speed, the project it backed to develop vaccines and medicines to treat Covid-19. Those contracts, too, were written outside normal government channels and the companies themselves were chosen by a panel of industry insiders without any oversight. Many of them stood to (and did) profit from the soaring stock prices of those firms when the news about clinical trial successes was released.

In November 2020, to launch an investigation into that situation, Senator Warren teamed up with Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) to request copies of all federal contracts for Covid-19 therapeutics and vaccines. "The American people," they stated, "deserve to know that the federal government is using their tax dollars to develop Covid-19 medical products at the best possible price for the public — not to line the pockets of wealthy companies by cutting corners in consumer protection, pricing, and quality."

Warren raised questions about a Department of Health and Human Services deal with Gilead Sciences for the pandemic therapeutic remdesivir (part of the "cocktail" of drugs administered to Donald Trump and other Republican insiders like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani when they got Covid). HHS had indeed acquired a large supply of remdesivir at an exorbitant cost to American taxpayers and Gilead itself would charge American hospitals $3,200 per treatment for it, $860 more than its price in other developed countries.

In addition to Warren, who sent a letter to the administration requesting information on HHS's pricing negotiations with Gilead for the drug, other people also stood up. Whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA), for instance, filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that Dr. Robert Kadlec, a Trump HHS political appointee, had engaged in multiple schemes to funnel contracts to politically connected companies — and that this had begun even before the pandemic was even a reality. According to Bright, Kadlec then pushed him out of the government, despite the fact that federal law officially protects whistleblowers.

In his complaint, among other things, Bright alleged that in 2017, a Kadlec friend and Big Pharma consultant pressured the agency to maintain a contract with a company owned by a friend of Jared Kushner's, even after an independent review determined it should be cancelled. Bright testified before Congress, and the fate of his whistleblower suit remains to be litigated.

As for the rest of the inquiries, so far, money and power appear to have eluded the investigators. It's unclear whether Senator Warren's and Representative Porter's requests met with any response from the former administration, or even whether they've continued their inquiry into Big Pharma and no-bid contracting. They have made no further announcements and neither office replied to requests for updates.

You won't be surprised to learn, I'm sure, that the name "Jared Kushner" is so far not to be found in GAO or PRAC reports.

The best chance for public accountability — if not legal liability — might be the House of Representatives, especially its Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, launched in April 2020. The Trump administration blew off its subpoenas for former HHS Secretary Alex Azar and then-CDC Director Robert Redfield to testify in December 2020, and blocked documents and witnesses related to politicized data, testing, and supply shortages, among other areas of inquiry. But the subcommittee did manage to expose emails from Trump political appointees, revealing efforts to skew CDC data. It is also investigating some whopping no-bid or sole-contractor deals that the former administration cut with preferred businesses. One was a $354-million four-year contract awarded on a non-competitive basis to PHLOW, which was incorporated in January 2020 to manufacture generic medicines to fight Covid. It's the largest contract ever awarded by BARDA and includes a 10-year option worth $812 million.

And the House has continued to seek transparency. According to a Brookings House Oversight Tracker, as of March 2021, 30 percent of congressional oversight letters and 40 percent of its hearings were related to the federal government's pandemic response. But there are signs that the Biden administration, while more cooperative, is not eager to force agencies to comply with requests the previous administration ignored.

My sense is that the emergency created by the insurrection at the Capitol last January and the desperate need of the new Biden administration to have palpable policy achievements in order to do well in election 2022 has taken the steam out of any inclination to dig deeper into the profiteering, cronyism, political scheming, and chaos with which the Trump administration met the Covid-19 virus. It went far deeper than an article like this can possibly indicate, leaving so many hundreds of thousands of potentially unnecessary deaths in its wake.

Think of it as a memory hole, still brimming with schemes and money.


Nina Burleigh, a TomDispatch regular, is a journalist of American politics and the author of six previous books. Her seventh, Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic(just published by Seven Stories Press) is a real-life thriller that delves into the official malfeasance behind America's pandemic chaos and the triumph of science in an era of conspiracy theories and contempt for experts.

GOP Furious Over Biden’s Strong Polling Numbers

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Polling released over the past two days shows both of President Joe Biden's major pieces of legislation — the American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief package and the American Jobs Plan infrastructure bill — are overwhelmingly popular with the American public.

The legislation remains popular even after continued GOP criticism that the plans are "radical" and "socialist" and will increase the national debt.

Now Politico is reporting that moderate Republicans are "seething" over their failure to move Biden's policies to the right. One aide to a GOP lawmaker said, "Everything they support is defined as either Covid relief or infrastructure, and everything they oppose is like … Jim Crow voter suppression and evil. And you constantly just feel like you're in this gaslighting chamber of insanity. But it's working."

A look at the polling shows just how badly the GOP's attempts to make Biden's policies unpopular have gone.

A Monmouth University poll released Wednesday found 63 percent of Americans support the coronavirus relief package Biden signed into law, which authorized a round of $1,400 relief checks, extended more generous federal unemployment benefits, and expanded the child tax credit in a manner that some analysts said would help drastically cut child poverty rates.

Monmouth said the rate of support for the relief package is actually now higher than the 62 percent it saw in March, when the bill first passed without a single Republican vote.

The recent polling finds that GOP attacks on Biden's $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan infrastructure package are also falling flat.

Republicans have slammed the legislation, saying that only a small fraction goes towards infrastructure, and that the mechanism to pay for it — increased taxes on the rich and corporations — is going to hurt the economy.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) complained that the plan contained billions in spending for elder care, which she said is not infrastructure.

However, a Politico/Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday found 54 percent of voters believe that caregiving should be considered infrastructure. That poll also found a majority of voters consider funding for child care, public schools, water pipes, internet access, and housing to be infrastructure as well.

The poll found that 57 percent of voters support the American Jobs Plan.

Other recent polls also show that a majority of the public supports the plan, including a New York Times/SurveyMonkey poll released Thursday that found 64 percent of Americans support it.

This is despite Republicans' ongoing attempts to scare the public away.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said that increased taxes on corporations and on wealthy Americans — such as himself, with an estimated net worth of $39.2 million as of 2018 — would damage the economy.

"Increasing the corporate tax rate won't pull us out of the COVID recession or set up long-term economic prosperity, but keeping the American corporate tax rate competitive will help businesses recover," Johnson tweeted on April 6.

But a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found the plan actually got more popular among Americans when they learned it would be funded by taxes on corporations.

RealClearPolitics reported that the House Republican Study Committee, the largest GOP conference in the chamber, had former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in to give its members a pep talk on Wednesday on how to successfully vilify Biden's agenda, telling them to call Biden a liar and saying, "When your opponent is in the midst of committing suicide, there is no reason to commit murder. The result is the same."

"We didn't lose the White House because the American people disagree with our ideas and support what [Democrats] are trying to do right now," Christie claimed.

Current polling is pointing in a different direction.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Why Have No House Republicans Signed On To Stop Medicare Cuts?

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

The House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill to stop billions in automatic cuts to Medicare. GOP lawmakers who previously railed against the cuts are now silent on whether they'll back the legislative fix.

The bill is authored and co-sponsored by Democratic House committee chairs: Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth, Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone, and Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal. Not a single Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor so far.

Last week, Congressional Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to help curb the coronavirus pandemic and fix the economic damage it has caused — without a single Republican vote in favor.

Because that legislation increases the deficit, a provision of a 2010 law designed to cut federal spending could automatically force cuts to Medicare, farm subsidies, and other programs. According to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, this would mean $36 billion in Medicare cuts and tens of billions of dollars in reductions to other programs.

This bill would waive those cuts — a move Kentucky Rep. Yarmuth said should be treated as a nonpartisan technical correction.

"When Republicans used reconciliation to pass tax cuts for the rich, Democrats voted with them to ... protect Medicare and other programs despite our strong opposition to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," he said in a press statement on Friday. "This legislation should have the same outcome, but if Republicans play political games and don't do their jobs, Medicare and the seniors that depend on it will pay the price."

But while at least 19 House Republicans cited the possible Medicare cuts as part of their rationale for opposing the $1.9 trillion relief bill, none are saying whether they will back the bill to avert them.

A spokesperson for only one of the 19 had responded to a request for comment before this story was published.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy

McCarthy (CA) tweeted on March 11, "The American people deserve better than Biden and Pelosi's political payoff scheme. It causes $36 billion in cuts to Medicare."

Don Bacon

Bacon (NE) tweeted on March 10, "The Budget Committee said the 'COVID' bill will cut $3B from Nebraska Medicare. This totally partisan $1.9T bill comes when $1T has not been spent from previous relief bills."

Kevin Brady

Brady (TX) tweeted on Feb. 11, "Punish health care heroes? #WaysandMeans Democrat's partisan Covid bill cuts Medicare funding by $18 billion or more. Who is hurt? Doctors, nurses, health care heroes, nursing homes, hospitals."

Ken Buck

Buck (CO) tweeted on March 12: "The spike in deficit spending from House Democrats coronavirus aid package would trigger $381 billion in cuts to Medicare annually for the next five fiscal years, via the Congressional Budget Office. Translation: Democrats are taking away your healthcare during a pandemic."

Tim Burchett

Burchett (TX) tweeted on March 10, "The American taxpayers just got hosed for $1.9 trillion and Tennessee seniors got $8.4 billion cut from Medicare in the so called #CovidRelief bill."

Vern Buchanan

Buchanan (FL) tweeted on Feb. 27, "The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warned this week that Pelosi's bill could trigger a $36 billion cut in Medicare funding."

Michael Burgess

Burgess (TX) tweeted on March 1, "Besides not being compliant with the 'Byrd Rule,' Dems $1.9 trillion #COVID19 bill could lead to cuts in Medicare and raising fees for student loans."

Buddy Carter

Carter (GA) tweeted on March 4, "GA is the worst-hit state under the Pelosi Payoff because it rewards blue state lockdowns while punishing hardworking Georgians and seniors. If this plan becomes law, GA seniors will be hit with an $11.5b Medicare cut. Our senators from GA can and should stop this very bad deal."

Rick Crawford

Crawford (AR) tweeted on March 3, "Arkansas seniors will face the brunt of the damage due to the President's bailout bill. Seniors stand to endure Medicare cuts of approximately $4.7 billion over ten years. AR will also get $390 million LESS in direct Medicare funding. How is this bill good for AR, again?"

Mario Diaz-Balart

Diaz-Balart (FL) tweeted on March 10, "If this fake #COVID bill becomes law Florida's seniors will be hit with a $30.8B Medicare cut over 10 years."

Jeff Duncan

Duncan (SC) tweeted on Feb. 26, "Another reason to oppose the 'COVID-19 relief' bill – It could cause $36 billion in cuts to the Medicare Program to offset the Democrats reckless spending on their radical priorities that are unrelated to COVID-19."

Drew Ferguson

Ferguson (GA) tweeted on March 10, "Georgians are being robbed left, right, and center by Pelosi's Payoff to Progressives. It's unimaginable that our two new Senators – Warnock and Ossoff – voted to cut Medicare funding by $11.2 billion for Georgia's seniors. It's just plain wrong."

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Greene (GA) tweeted on Feb. 24, "The Biden Bailout cuts healthcare for seniors on Medicare. Under Statutory PAYGO, the plan will cause an approximately $30 billion cut to the Medicare program every year starting in 2022 and continuing for next 10 years. Why would Grandpa Joe hurt seniors?"

A spokesperson for Greene said her office would not "respond to requests from 'journalists' with pronouns in their signature."

Yvette Herrell

Herrell (NM) tweeted on Feb. 27, "Democrats wouldn't cut their earmarks for a Silicon Valley subway and a bridge to Canada, but their COVID bill triggers cuts to your Medicare," referencing two infrastructure provisions later stripped from the final version of the bill.

Mike Johnson

Johnson (LA) tweeted on March 8, "More important data that every Louisianian should see: The #PelosiPayoff will cut Medicare for Louisiana's seniors by $649 MILLION per year for TEN years. Calling this a 'rescue plan' is a sham."

Matt Rosendale

Rosendale (MT) tweeted on March 9, "The Democrats' $1.9 trillion stimulus spends an exorbitant amount on far-left priorities but still manages to take money from Montana seniors. Their bill will slash $1.6 BILLION from our state's Medicare over 10 years... This means about a $168 MILLION cut every year. No way!"

David Schweikert

Schweikert (AZ) tweeted on March 3, "ARIZONA SENIORS: The $1.9 Trillion Biden Bailout would result in a $8.1 Billion Cut to Medicare in our state if signed into law."

Jason Smith

Smith (MO) tweeted on Feb. 17, "As a result of Biden's bailout package, $30 BILLION will be cut from Medicare next year alone. $30 BILLION. These cuts will be devastating for our seniors and the providers who care for them."

Lloyd Smucker

Smucker (PA) tweeted on March 6, "President Biden's $1.9 Trillion Bailout will trigger $17.2 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare over the next decade. These cuts will hurt Pennsylvania's seniors."

A spokesperson for the House Budget Committee said she is optimistic the final vote will be bipartisan. "Presumably no one wants to see these critical programs upended, especially amid this once-in-a-generation crisis, and it is our hope that the votes will reflect that." she said in an email to The American Independent Foundation.

Updated with a comment from the House Budget Committee.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

#EndorseThis: Meyers Puts Fox News And Congressional Republicans On Blast

Americans are finally getting the rest of the $2000 direct payments that Democrats promised after Congress passed President Biden's American Rescue Plan on Wednesday. But Fox News has more important concerns, centered around "Looney Toons and the royal family."For some reason Seth Meyers didn't find these news judgments by the Murdoch network very persuasive, so he quite hysterically put Fox News and their Republican allies on blast for 15 minutes -- meting out the rhetorical punishment they deserve.

Yes, help is on the way, and this is how to celebrate. Click and cackle!

Fox News Defends Piers Morgan and Pepe Le Pew as COVID Bill Passes: A Closer Look www.youtube.com

On Twitter, Sen. Wicker Takes Credit For Rescue Plan He Opposed

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief bill that provides more aid to struggling Americans.

Yet already, at least one GOP lawmaker is trying to take credit for a piece of the legislation — even though he voted against the bill at the end of the day.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) bragged on Wednesday, shortly after the bill passed, that he helped get billions in relief to help restaurants that have had their businesses upended during the pandemic.

"One bright spot from this week's budget package is the $28.6 billion in targeted support for restaurants that have been hit hard by the pandemic," Wicker tweeted, along with a video of himself praising the part of the bill that gives aid to restaurants. "[Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)] and my RESTAURANTS Act was the first amendment added to the package."

However, just days earlier on March 6 — when the Senate passed the relief bill — Wicker slammed the legislation.

"President Biden and Congressional Democrats have billed this reckless spending spree as COVID-19 relief, but in reality it has little to do with ending the pandemic," Wicker said in a statement explaining his vote against the bill. "The bill is full of unnecessary spending that will overheat the economy at a time when infections are dropping nationwide. It is no surprise that this bill has not earned a single Republican vote. This is no way to govern, and I strongly oppose this legislation."

He went on to say in his statement that he opposed the bill because "less than 10 percent of the provisions in the legislation would address the immediate COVID crisis."

That criticism does not line up with his praise of the bill's billions in help for restaurants, which are not part of the "immediate COVID crisis."

Wicker's decision to praise a provision in the bill, even though he ultimately voted against it, is in contrast to his GOP colleagues, who are trying to vilify the legislation with scare tactics and outright lies about what it does.

For example, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said that the bill sends "checks to illegal immigrants." That's a lie, as only those with social security numbers will receive the $1,400 direct payments that the bill authorized.

Republicans are also calling the bill too expensive, saying it adds too much to the national debt.

The GOP's attacks, however, are not resonating with voters, as polling shows the bill is overwhelmingly popular.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll published Wednesday found 75 percent of voters support the legislation — including 59 percent of Republicans. That's virtually unchanged from a Politico/Morning Consult poll from one week earlier, that found 77 percent supported the bill, including an identical 59 percent of Republicans.

What's more, voters do not agree that the bill is too expensive, with the Politico/Morning Consult survey from Wednesday showing that just 21 percent of voters say the bill "offers too much support."

Democrats, for their part, are planning to hammer Republicans for voting against the bill — and are already running ads against vulnerable GOP lawmakers up for reelection in 2022 attacking them for opposing popular provisions in the legislation.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

New Polls: Biden's Approval Roaring As GOP Numbers Plunge

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

It's not particularly surprising that Congressional Republicans—desperate for something to paper over their Trump-inspired rifts—would rally around blocking key pieces of President Biden's agenda.

What is notable, however, is them falling in line against Biden's concerted efforts to get a handle on the pandemic, get Americans back to work, get schools reopened, and restore a sense of normalcy to everyday life. Those efforts are now winning Biden a similar level of support among the American public as his wildly popular COVID-19 rescue plan is.

A new Associated Press-NORC poll released Friday found that 70 percent of Americans back Biden's handling of the response to the pandemic, including 44 percent of Republicans—a very similar level of support to what most surveys have found for Biden's COVID-19 relief package.

Biden's overall job performance approval came in at a strong 60 percent, but it's notable that he's doing ten points better on pandemic-specific issues. It suggests the popularity of Biden's pandemic relief is redounding to his benefit more broadly, along with his other efforts to speed up vaccine distribution and more generally provide palpable leadership on the issue. A Harris tracking poll this week also found public approval of vaccine distribution has risen to 66 percent, a 15-point jump in a single month.

Republicans, by prominently opposing that relief bill, are also broadly seen by the public as trying to jam Biden's efforts to improve the economy and combat the pandemic. A new Navigator Research poll found that 52 percent of Americans say Republicans in Congress are "blocking" Biden's efforts to improve the economy (just 20 percent say Republicans are helping) while a plurality of 40 percent say the same about Biden's efforts to combat the pandemic (just 31 percent say Republicans are helping).

Bottom line, in numerous polls, the American public likes both Biden's show of initiative and his specific initiatives on the pandemic.

Republicans, not so much. And this is the hill they have apparently chosen to die on.

Sen. Johnson’s Stunt To Delay Relief Bill Backfires — Badly

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) tried to delay the passage of the coronavirus relief bill by forcing Senate clerks to read aloud every word of the 628 legislation.

However Johnson's effort to delay passage of the bill — which will send another round of direct payments to Americans, extend more generous unemployment benefits, and provide funding for vaccine rollout and school reopenings — actually backfired, as there is now 17 hours fewer to debate the legislation.

Here's what happened:

Johnson remained on the Senate floor until around 2 a.m. EST, nearly 11 hours after clerks began to read the legislation at Johnson's demand.

But after he left, Democrats moved to cut down debate on the bill from 20 hours to 3, and Johnson was not there to object. That means Republicans will have 17 fewer hours to debate the merits of the bill.

"Still struggling to understand @RonJohnsonWI last night," Paul Kane, a longtime Congressional correspondent who works for the Washington Post, tweeted. "He forced nonpartisan Senate staff to read entire covid bill for 10+ hrs. Yet he wasn't there to object when Dems reduced debate to 3 hrs (instead of 20). So, now bill is moving faster to passage, not slower. Strategery?"

Democrats are moving quickly on the legislation because they want to have it on President Joe Biden's desk by March 14, when expanded Unemployment Insurance benefits are set to expire.

If Republicans were successful in their efforts to delay the passage of the bill, it would leave hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers with smaller unemployment checks. On Thursday, the Department of Labor announced that 745,000 had filed for unemployment payments the week before.

But ultimately, having less time to debate the bill cuts back on the GOP's opportunity to build opposition to the legislation, which is currently overwhelmingly popular with the electorate.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll published Wednesday found 77 percent of voters supporting the relief legislation. That includes a whopping 59 percent of Republicans.

In the end, debate on the relief package began at 9 a.m.ET Friday morning, and was scheduled to end three hours later.

At that point, Republicans will wage another stunt to drag out the passage of the legislation, by offering amendments they hope will cause political pain to Democrats.

And at the end of the day, it looks like not a single GOP lawmaker will vote for the relief bill. Already, Vice President Kamala Harris had to break a tie Thursday even to proceed to debate the bill in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate.

And Democrats are crying foul that Republicans, who voted for relief bills under Trump, are now unified in support against Biden's proposal.

"Now that a Democrat is in the White House, now that Democrats control the Senate, those same ideas [Republicans] supported when Trump was president and McConnell was majority leader are a liberal wish list. Same ideas. Who the heck are they kidding?" Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday morning on the Senate floor.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Hold On! Democrats Plan To Expedite Those $2K Relief Checks

The likelihood of Americans getting $2,000 virus relief checks has risen since Democrats swept the Georgia runoffs on Tuesday to take back the U.S. Senate.

On Wednesday, Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock made history, becoming Georgia's first Black senator after defeating GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed in December 2019 to serve out the remainder of former Sen. Johnny Isakson's term. Democrat Jon Ossoff also triumphed over Republican Sen. David Perdue, who came under scrutiny on multiple occasions last year for several insider trading allegations, which he has repeatedly denied.

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