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With the Senate impeachment trial behind us, Covid-19 relief is set to become the dominant issue in Washington again as Democrats work to advance key parts of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal.
The state of play. The House Ways and Means Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee have each advanced their portions of the bill.
But there are 12 House committees writing pieces of the relief legislation, and the House Budget Committee is set to put the pieces together this week to form a single bill.
The timeline. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during her news conference last week that she wants the package passed in the House by the end of February and on the President’s desk before March 14, when some unemployment benefits are set to expire.
A political tightrope. Pelosi can only afford to lose five Democrats in the process, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York can’t lose a single member on his side.
Biden's first 100 days
And already, senators have signaled they may want changes to the House bill once it comes to the Senate.
What’s in the bill again? Bigger stimulus checks. More aid for the unemployed, the hungry and those facing eviction. Additional support for small businesses, states and local governments. Increased funding for vaccinations and testing. Read more here.
Early but high stakes for Biden. The building of the Covid-19 relief bill in the coming weeks will ultimately have a large impact on the President’s early legacy and set the tone for how he plans to operate moving forward.
Trump’s post-impeachment legal problems
Out of office and without the protections that the presidency afforded him, former President Donald Trump is now facing multiple criminal investigations and civil state inquiries – as well as defamation lawsuits by two women accusing him of sexual assault.
Some investigations to keep an eye on from CNN’s Kara Scannell, Sonia Moghe and Jason Morris:
Georgia election results. Georgia officials announced that the former President faces two new investigations over calls he made to election officials in an attempt to overturn the state’s election results.
A source familiar with the Georgia secretary of state’s investigation confirmed they are investigating two calls, including one Trump made to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
In the January call, audio of which was obtained by CNN, Trump is heard pushing Raffensperger to “find” votes to overturn the election results after his loss to then-President-elect Joe Biden.
Business dealings in New York. Trump also faces a criminal investigation in New York where the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is looking into whether the Trump Organization violated state laws, such as insurance fraud, tax fraud or other schemes to defraud.
The scope of the investigation is broad, with prosecutors looking into, among other things, whether the Trump Organization misled financial institutions when applying for loans or violated tax laws when donating a conservation easement on its estate called Seven Springs and taking deductions on fees paid to consultants.
Prosecutors are awaiting a decision from the US Supreme Court on whether it will continue to delay the enforcement of a subpoena for eight years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns and related records from his accounting firm.
Covid-19 cases have declined sharply
That’s the good news.
But we’re far from out of the woods. Another 130,000 Americans are projected to die of the virus over the next three and a half months, according to the latest model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
In a briefing accompanying its latest projection, the IHME laid out four key factors that will determine how the coming months will unfold:
- Increasing vaccinations (latest distribution figures here).
- Declining seasonality – the pattern of lower transmission that’s likely in the US during the spring and summer months.
The other two factors are what could reverse the US’ progress.
- The spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the UK and experts warned could become the dominant strain in the US by spring. Data from the CDC shows more than 980 cases of the variant have so far been detected across 37 states.
- “Increased behaviors that favor COVID-19 transmission,” the IHME team said, like indoor dining or not wearing a mask.
The bottom line: Now is not the time to let our guard down, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta wrote this week.
While we are getting mostly positive news about vaccines, and the number of Covid-19 cases is going down, we’re still very much in this pandemic and things can change rapidly, especially when it comes to the effect the variants will have on both vaccine efficacy and the number of new infections.
So until we know more, including whether vaccines reduce transmission in addition to reducing severe disease, we have to keep doing the things we know will keep us safe: wear a mask, keep our physical distance, stay in well-ventilated areas – and if you get the chance, get your shot.