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Government

7 takeaways from Joe Biden’s first presidential address

President Joe Biden gave his first prime time address as president Thursday night at 8 p.m. to give an update on the nation’s fight against coronavirus and to talk about the path forward.

Below are some of the more interesting points from Biden’s speech.

Biden is constantly reminded of the victims: Biden mentioned in his speech that the back of his daily schedule — which he keeps in his pocket — has the updated number of American lives lost to COVID-19 written on it. At the time of the speech that number was 527,726.

“That’s more deaths than in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and 9/11 combined. There are husbands, wives, sons and daughters, grandparents, friends, neighbors, young and old,” Biden said. “We leave behind loved ones. Unable to truly grieve or to heal, or even to have a funeral. Also thinking about everyone else lost this past year to natural causes, by cruel fate of accident or other disease. They too died alone. They too leave behind loved ones who are hurting badly.”

A new view of government: Democrats are often called the party of big government while Republicans have a reputation of being the party of small government. Biden laid out his vision of government as being made up of the people and as a positive force in fighting the global pandemic.

“We know what we need to do to beat this virus. Tell the truth. All the scientists and science, work together, put trust and faith in our government to fulfill its most important function, which is protecting the American people. No function more important. We need to remember the government isn’t some foreign force in some distant capital. No, it’s us, all of us. We the people, for you and I, and America thrives. We give our hearts. We return our hands to common purpose.”

Everyone will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in May: The Biden administration is directing all states, tribes and territories to make all Americans over the age of 18 eligible for the vaccine no later than May 1. That doesn’t mean all Americans will be vaccinated by then, but it means all Americans will be able to receive the vaccine. The wait to sign up will be over.

Finding the vaccine will be easier: In tandem with increasing eligibility for the vaccine, Biden vowed to make finding the shot easier. He said a new website will roll out that will allow you to enter your address and find a location to get vaccinated near you.

Biden wants schools to reopen soon: We are on Day 50 of Biden’s presidency. Biden wants the majority of K-8 schools open in the next 50 days and will be directing government resources to get teachers vaccinated and help schools reopen.

It isn’t just about government: During the speech, Biden made a plea, telling Americans that he needs them in order to beat the virus and encouraged everyone to wear masks, socially distance, continue washing hands and get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.

“Talk to your family, friends, your neighbors. The people you know best who have gotten the vaccine. We need everyone to get vaccinated. We need everyone to keep washing their hands. Stay socially distanced and keep wearing the mask, as recommended by the CDC,” Biden said. “Because even if we devote every resource we have beating this virus, getting back to normal depends on national unity. And national unity isn’t just how politics and politicians vote in Washington. What the loudest voice is saying on cable or online. Unity is what we do together as fellow Americans. Because if we don’t stay vigilant and the conditions change, and we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track. Please, we don’t want to do that again. We’ve made so much progress. This is not the time to let up.”

Here comes the money: Biden closed his speech by talking about the American Rescue plan, which was signed into law prior to the address. Under the plan, a family of four earning less than $110,000 per year will receive a check for $5,600.

Biden also talked about the other aspects of the rescue plan. ” It helps small businesses. It lowers healthcare premiums for many. It provides food and nutrition, keeps families in their homes, and it will cut child poverty in this country in half, according to the experts. And it funds, all the steps I’ve just described, to beat the virus and create millions of jobs,” he said.

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Government

How to watch Joe Biden’s first presidential address tonight

Joe Biden will address the nation tonight for the first time as president.

The address comes as the United States marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic that set off nationwide lockdowns, mask ordinances, and social distancing protocols.

Biden said he will be talking about the next phase in the country’s pandemic response.

How To Watch

The address will begin at 8:02 p.m. Eastern. Since this is a prime time speech by the president, it will be widely available. That means it should be covered by cable news networks like CNN as well as the broadcast networks, NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox.

If you don’t have cable, you can stream the speech on the TV networks’ news apps, CBSN, ABC News, and NBC News.

The speech is expected to last about 20 minutes.

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Government

Sweeping voting rights package could curb state pushes to restrict voting

The House passed sweeping voting rights, redistricting, campaign finance and ethics reform, late Wednesday night along party lines in a 220 to 210 vote, but the historic package will face an uphill battle in the Senate as no Republicans currently support the bill.

Even though Democrats control Congress and the White House, their slim majority in a 50-50 Senate is not enough to enact into law a massive package that tackles dark money in campaigns, voter suppression and election security that requires 60 votes rather than a simple majority. The push to end or reform the Senate filibuster is growing among Democrats who are aiming to get the package on President Joe Biden’s desk in the hopes that some of those changes can be enacted before midterm and gubernatorial races in 2022.

“I’m not optimistic on the Senate side,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the architect of the bill said during a Tuesday press conference. “We built this piece of legislation over a number of years but the urgency for it in this moment could not be greater.”

Republicans have launched attacks on the nearly 800 page legislative package, arguing that the federal government is overreaching by mandating how states carry out elections and that the country needs strict voter identification laws.

During the House floor debate, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) said that the bill compromises the rights of states to make their own voting laws.

“This bill will weaken what many states are doing to improve election security,” he said.

The package aims to increase voter turnout by restoring voting rights to those with a felony record, expanding early voting and same-day voter registration, getting rid of ID requirements and requiring states to set up automatic voter registration for eligible voters for federal elections. The Biden administration is supportive of the bill.

“In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country, this landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen American democracy,” the administration said in a statement.

With historic levels of voting in the 2020 presidential election, many Republican controlled state legislatures have introduced strict voter ID laws, a trend that concerns Democrats.

“Everything is at stake,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) said during a Wednesday press conference ahead of the vote on the bill.

There are currently more than 33 states that have introduced 165 bills to tighten voting requirements, according to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. The center also found that 37 states have “introduced, pre-filed or carried over 541 bills” that would expand voting rights.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Government

What you need to know about the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill

WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. House on a nearly party-line vote passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package early Saturday, in a rush to both boost COVID-19 vaccine funding and get legislation to the president’s desk before unemployment benefits expire in mid-March.

The package, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, passed 219-212. It includes a gradual increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, despite a ruling on Thursday by the Senate parliamentarian that the wage hike does not comply with Senate budget rules. Whether the pay increase survives in the Senate is yet to be seen.

Two House Democrats voted against the bill — Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon. Every Republican opposed it.

“We need to pass this bill prior to March 14 so that some millions of people are not falling through the cracks,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said at a press conference. “Today’s vote is a crucial step in our fight to defeat COVID-19 and build our economy back better.”

The Biden administration on Friday underlined its support for the massive measure, which includes $350 billion in direct aid to state and local governments.

“The bill would allow the Administration to execute its plan to change the course of the COVID- 19 pandemic,” the administration said in a statement. “And it would provide Americans and their communities an economic bridge through the crisis.”

The bill would provide direct checks of $1,400 to Americans in certain income brackets, extend unemployment benefits and food programs and continue pauses on rental evictions.

Since the pandemic, more than 8 million people have slipped into poverty, according to a study by Columbia University. While employment has slowly started to climb, there are still more than 10 million people unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More than half-a-million Americans have died of coronavirus with 28 million positive cases.

On the House floor, Rep. Steve Scalise, (R-La.), objected to the bill, arguing that $350 billion should not go toward state and local government to “bail out failed states.” Louisiana is set to receive $5 billion overall.

“We should be here tonight focused on real priorities,” he said, arguing for more of the funding to go toward reopening schools and vaccine distribution.

Bailouts for blue state governors who have mismanaged their states for years have no place in a COVID relief bill. People are hurting, and any further aid must be targeted to those most in need and used to enhance vaccine rollout and reopen schools and businesses. pic.twitter.com/JcPoPakXry

— Congressman Ben Cline (@RepBenCline) February 25, 2021

Tonight’s vote was a necessary step to come to the immediate aid of our communities and to prevent lasting damage to our economy.

Inaction is unacceptable in the face of this lingering crisis.

Read my full statement 👇https://t.co/Q4quG71kXl

— Rep. Abigail Spanberger (@RepSpanberger) February 27, 2021

The bill provides $7.5 billion for vaccine distribution, rollout and planning, along with $1 billion set aside for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to carry out activities to “strengthen vaccine confidence.”

Wage increase

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the president was disappointed that the parliamentarian ruled that the proposed increase to the minimum wage could not be included in the relief package.

The measure is being considered under a process known as budget reconciliation, which allows for floor passage with a simple majority — crucial for Democrats who control a Senate split 50-50 with tie-breaking votes cast by Vice President Kamala Harris.

“He will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty,” Psaki said.

Ahead of the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), said that Democrats would still include the federal minimum wage increase in their relief package because they believe it’s necessary.

“We are sending it as a symbol of a difference it will make in the lives of the American people,” she said. “If it doesn’t prevail because of Senate rules we will persist.”

Senate Democrats are already looking to work around the parliamentarian’s decision by imposing a 5% tax penalty on a “big corporation’s total payroll if any workers earn less than a certain amount,” Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), said in a statement.

“It also would include safeguards to prevent companies from trying to outsource labor to avoid paying living wages,” he said.

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, also said he plans legislation that would require billion-dollar companies to pay their employees a minimum wage of $15.

Child tax credit, school mental health

The sprawling House bill provides a temporary extension of the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to as much as $3,600 for the youngest children over the next year.

To help educators and school staff deal with the mental health of students, the bill allocates $80 million to address burnout, suicide and mental and behavioral problems.

Additionally, the bill would put $20 million toward a public health campaign aimed at encouraging health care workers to seek support and treatment for their own mental health.

Virginia states and local governments would be in line for the following funding under the House version of the bill, according to the House Oversight and Reform Committee:

  • State Government: $3.7 billion
  • Metro Cities: $628 million
  • Non-counties: $604 million
  • Counties: $1.6 billion

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.