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India farmers clash with police, swarm Delhi as protests mount
InternationalJan 27. 2021Farmers at a rally near Singhu border on the outskirts of New Delh on Jan. 26, 2021. Bloomberg photo by Anindito Mukherjee
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Archana Chaudhary, Santosh Kumar
Thousands of Indian farmers on Tuesday escalated protests to revoke controversial agricultural laws, clashing with police and storming key landmarks in New Delhi to pressure Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The farmers, who have camped at various border points around the capital for two months, had permission to demonstrate after the completion of an annual military parade to mark Republic Day, a major public holiday in India. But many gathered early in the day and broke through barricades on the outskirts of the city, prompting police to deploy tear gas in some areas.
Television footage showed thousands of protesters clashing with police in central Delhi before reaching the iconic Red Fort, where Indian prime ministers typically address the nation on the country’s independence day in August. It remained unclear if the farmers, many of whom gathered peacefully, would camp out in the middle of Delhi or return to locations outside the city where they had been staying.
“We are talking to the farmers — we are convincing them to go back,” said Depender Pathak, special commissioner of police. “We have faith in farmers. This is an unprecedented situation.”
A farmer ascends a flagpole at the Red Fort during a protest in New Delhi on Jan. 26, 2021. Bloomberg photo by Anindito Mukherjee
India’s federal home ministry suspended mobile internet services in some parts of the city where the protests were most tense. Several metro stations were also shut down.
Farmer leaders called on protesters to stay peaceful, warning that any violence could hurt their cause.
“For the last two months, the entire country and the world has been saying that the peaceful nature of these farmers protests is their strength,” said Yogendra Yadav, leader of Sanyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organization of several dozen farm groups leading the protests. “If this peace breaks down, our strength will take a hit.”
Farmers travel along the Inner Ring Road in New Delhi in January 2021. Bloomberg photo by Anindito Mukherjee
Leaders of the protests have rejected Modi’s offers to temporarily shelve the three laws passed in September that overhauled the way farm goods are sold in the country of more than 1.3 billion people, almost half of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The government has defended the legislation, saying they would eliminate middlemen in state-run wholesale markets, increase earnings for farmers and make India more self-reliant.
The farmers have continued to call on the government to repeal the legislation, which they say will hurt their incomes and leave them vulnerable to big corporations. While Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has a lock on parliament and doesn’t need to call a national vote until 2024, the protests risk hurting his appeal in state elections and could halt momentum for other reforms.
Although the demonstrations have hurt the government, the scenes on Tuesday of unruly farmers may undermine their cause, according to Asim Ali, a New Delhi-based researcher at the Center for Policy Research.
“This was always the danger, and it seems that it has gone out of hand,” Ali said. “This is possibly what the ruling party would have liked to see.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was attending Republic celebrations during the Jan. 26, 2021, protest. Bloomberg photo by T. Narayan
The tractor rallies marked the first time the protesting farmers have marched into the capital. They are mostly from the neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. But they have also found support in other Indian cities, including financial centers Mumbai and Bangalore, where protest marches have also taken place.
“More than a 100,000 people with tractors have gathered here and we expect more to join us,” said Manjit Rai, 57, a farm leader coordinating entry at one of the half-dozen entry points into the capital. “People are enthusiastic about the celebrations and we are determined that we will peacefully continue to make our case.”
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Biden administration seeks to buy 200 million more vaccine doses, to be delivered through the summer
InternationalJan 27. 2021White House coordinator of covid-19 response Jeff Zients waits before President Joe Biden arrives to speak about the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
By The Washington Post · Isaac Stanley-Becker, Laurie McGinley, Christopher Rowland
WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said Tuesday it was on the cusp of securing an additional 200 million doses of the two coronavirus vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States.
The purchases would increase available supply by 50%, bringing the total to 600 million doses by this summer.
Because both products – one developed by Pfizer and German company BioNTech and the other by Moderna – are two-dose regimens, that would be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million people. An estimated 260 million people in the United States are currently considered eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine, though Pfizer and Moderna have initiated trials for children as young as 12, the results of which could expand the pool.
The deals promised by President Joe Biden would not immediately speed up vaccinations. But they would greatly boost his chances of returning the nation to some semblance of normalcy by late summer or the fall.
The president said Monday he expects the general public to gain access to shots by the spring – as he seemed to elevate his administration’s goal from 1 million vaccinations a day to 1.5 million – though aides said that was aspirational. And Biden drew back Tuesday to his earlier ambition of administering 100 million shots in his first 100 days, insisting it would be a good start.
Biden, in remarks Tuesday evening, said he expected the additional doses to be delivered through the summer.
“This is an aggregate plan that doesn’t leave anything on the table or anything to chance, as we’ve seen happen in the past year,” the president said.
He added, in a further effort to distinguish his approach from that of his predecessor, “This is a wartime effort.”
The companies were more cautious in public statements, though people knowledgeable about the negotiations said formal deals were imminent because the government was using options built into existing contracts to receive the additional doses. Those people, like several others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal matters.
Moderna spokesman Ray Jordan declined to comment. Pfizer spokeswoman Amy Rose said the company “has engaged in regular communications with the Biden administration and we stand at the ready to start negotiations should the White House choose to execute their option for additional doses.”
Each company has already agreed to deliver 200 million doses to the federal government by the end of June. Pfizer has said it can deliver 120 million of those doses by the end of March, at a price of $19.50 per dose, while Moderna has pledged 100 million by then, with each dose sold for $15.
Manufacturing has steadily ramped up, in pace with those targets. As a result, federal allocations to states and other jurisdictions will increase by about 16% next week, easing shortages that have intensified nationwide without immediately alleviating supply problems.
Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus response, informed governors of the increase on a call Tuesday afternoon, according to two people who participated and spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the conversation.
The weekly allocation is forecast to go from about 8.6 million doses to about 10 million. The vaccines are distributed on a population basis among 64 jurisdictions, including 50 states, eight territories and six major cities.
Senior administration officials said the increased supply will come mostly from releasing more doses of Moderna’s vaccine. The stepped-up allocations will remain for three weeks, these officials said, as the Department of Health and Human Services provides estimates on that time scale going forward.
The increased allocations and the promise of better forecasts came as welcome news to state and local officials, who have implored the federal government for estimates of available supply so they can plan and set expectations for the public.
Such projections were not possible in December, according to current and former federal officials, because of uncertainty about manufacturing and instability in the supply chain. The government has gained greater understanding of production schedules, especially after directing suppliers to fulfill Pfizer’s needs under the Defense Production Act.
Moderna this month raised its global target for the year from 500 million doses to 600 million. Pfizer and BioNTech recently raised their target from 1.3 billion doses to 2 billion.
But precise manufacturing schedules remain difficult to predict, and Zients could not answer questions on Tuesday’s call with governors about exact production levels and when he expected significant scale-up, according to one state official who participated. The official said the administration promised more details “sooner rather than later.”
Meanwhile, vaccine shortages are having stark consequences throughout the country. Appointments have been canceled en masse as health officers and medical providers confront a sharply limited supply of doses, which are being targeted at medical workers, older people, some front-line workers and other highly vulnerable people. The patchwork of rules about eligibility has deepened confusion about access to the shots.
New information is around the corner about a third vaccine, though its efficacy is not publicly known. Health officials are awaiting data from a trial by Johnson & Johnson, which will probably arrive in the next week.
That data may also suggest how a vaccine performs against one of the virus variants spreading alarm globally, because some of the trial was conducted in South Africa, where a more transmissible variant has been identified. The federal government has already paid $1 billion for the first 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which, if it proves effective, would be a boon because it is a single dose.
The effort to buy additional Pfizer and Moderna doses vaccines represents a shift in strategy, as the Biden administration doubles down on two highly effective products authorized by federal regulators. The Trump administration worked to spread its risks over many vaccine candidates.
Once the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines late last year showed such high efficacy – about 95% – some government experts argued the administration should quickly acquire as much of those vaccines as possible, even if the United States ended up with more vaccine than needed.
That argument has gained currency with the Biden administration, according to people familiar with the government’s thinking, partly because of the emergence of variants that appear to be more transmissible and possibly more lethal than the original coronavirus.
Early data shows that the two vaccines may be effective against the British variant of the virus that already is causing infections in the United States. And scientists believe they may possibly be effective against other variants, including ones identified in Brazil and South Africa. The South African variant has not appeared in the United States, but the Brazilian one was recently found in a case in Minnesota.
In addition, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use a platform known as mRNA to elicit a potent immune response, are the easiest type of vaccine to change to counter threatening new variants.
Biden and his top aides have stressed that vaccine supply is only one aspect of the challenges involved in executing the immunization campaign. The administration is seeking additional resources for state and local health departments and has vowed greater federal coordination of the efforts, including plans to augment the public health workforce and set up mass vaccination sites.
The administration has also pledged to increase transparency for state and local officials overseeing ground-level planning and for members of the public waiting to be vaccinated.
Biden administration officials are also seeking to have more data related to vaccination efforts posted on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a federal health official. Ideally, that would include data about manufacturing, supply and allocation to the states. Information about production and supply is not currently publicly available.
The vaccine rollout has been marked by a lack of transparency about stockpiles, short-term rollout schedules and contradictory statements from government officials. Companies producing vaccines have issued broad statements about vaccine goals, based on quarterly projections.
In Pfizer’s case, production estimates were recently accelerated by the Food and Drug Administration’s recognition of a sixth dose in each vial, which previously had been considered to be “over fill” beyond the initial five-dose capacity. The change resulted in an instant 20% increase in Pfizer’s quota.
The companies said they have been giving more detailed information about vaccine availability to the government, which then relays the information about weekly shipment expectations to state officials.
But the lack of accurate and consistent information has been a major complaint at the state level, as the initial shipments of vaccine have not matched the volume of vaccines local systems are demanding.
The Biden administration appeared to put pressure over the weekend on Pfizer and Moderna to improve the flow of information about vaccine manufacturing and supply. Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Biden’s director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, said, “I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have, and if I can’t tell it to you then I can’t tell it to the governors and I can’t tell it to the state health officials.”
Asked to respond to Walensky’s concerns this week, Moderna and Pfizer said they have been reporting on a daily and weekly basis the amount of vaccine that will be ready.
“We have and are continuing to work closely with the U.S. government on our production, release and shipping schedules – to ensure Americans receive their first and second doses of the vaccine on time,” Pfizer said in a statement this week. “We have provided them with a specific schedule, and we foresee no issues in delivering on the commitments we have made.”
Jordan, Moderna’s spokesman, said the U.S. government is in charge of relaying fine-grained information to states. “The U.S. Government is our customer, and they are free to communicate as they wish,” he said.
A former Trump administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to address sensitive matters, said Moderna has been more forthcoming about its vaccine production than Pfizer.
“With Moderna, we always had a pretty clear sense of what was further ahead, and any potential issues, a better ability to accurately predict what was coming,” the official said. “With Pfizer, we didn’t have as much insight. It was a byproduct of their unwillingness to work as collaboratively with Warp Speed as other companies.”
Pfizer did not respond to a request to address the criticism.
Along with other vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer last summer signed an advanced purchase contract with the Trump administration. But the company did not accept research and development money or backing for clinical trials from the government.
Pfizer also opted to distribute its vaccine to states on its own, rather than permit its vaccine to be shipped by national wholesaler McKesson, the government’s designated distributor for vaccine and supplies. Its shipments are nonetheless following the federal government’s allocation guidance.
Much of Pfizer’s supply is obligated to other countries. But the pharmaceutical giant has recently delayed or reduced shipments to Canada and Europe as it retools a factory in Belgium, frustrating foreign governments.
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Biden signs orders on racial equity
InternationalJan 27. 2021President Biden speaks his week at the White House. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
By The Washington Post · Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Tracy Jan
WASHINGTON – President Biden signed four executive actions Tuesday aimed at increasing racial equity across the nation, a move the administration said was a big early step in his efforts to dismantle systemic racism, though civil rights groups made it clear they will press for more-sweeping change in the months ahead.
The measures seek to strengthen anti-discrimination housing policies that were weakened under President Donald Trump, nix new Justice Department contracts with private prisons, increase the sovereignty of Native American tribes and combat violence and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific islanders, a week after the departure of a president who blamed the Chinese for the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden said the actions were part of an effort to infuse a focus on equity into everything the federal government does.
“We’re in a battle for the soul of this nation, and the truth is our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to exist,” Biden said. “I’m not promising that we can end it tomorrow, but I promise you that we’re going to make strides to end systemic racism, and every branch of the White House and the federal government will be part of that.”
The actions reflected the extent to which Biden’s ascent to the presidency was wrapped up with the nation’s racial struggles. He kicked off his campaign with a rejection of Trump’s approach to race, was propelled to the nomination largely by Black voters and – as racial justice protests erupted across the country – aligned his campaign increasingly with their cause.
Activists are making it clear that they expect more from Biden than a diverse administration and rhetoric about justice. Tuesday marked his first major effort to respond, to mixed reviews from civil rights groups.
In a memo, the administration pledged to work with Congress on legislation that increases funding for minority-owned small businesses, invests in historically Black colleges and universities, and triples funding for Title I schools serving a high proportion of low-income children.
Some activists cautioned that tackling system racism is complex and will not be resolved by government edicts.
Melanie Campbell, who leads the Black Women’s Roundtable, a group of Black female activists, said that she was buoyed that Biden took decisive steps on equity – especially related to housing discrimination – less than a week into his term but that more work needs to be done.
“We plan to engage this administration and to engage Congress,” Campbell said. “Black people didn’t just help the Biden-Harris ticket win for our health. I’m not waiting on announcements, I’m engaging. Maybe we’ll give them a week or two to settle in, but we are not sitting around waiting.”
Biden spoke Tuesday in unusually blunt terms, decrying white supremacy and systemic racism, and saying the nation must change its entire approach to racial equity. “It’s time to act because that’s what faith and morality call us to do,” he said. “It’s what the core values of this nation call us to do.”
The moment carried echoes of Lyndon Johnson, who assumed the presidency amid another period of racial turmoil, said Ravi Perry, chairman of the political science department at Howard University.
The 1963 March on Washington and other civil rights protests led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and laid the groundwork for the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, Perry said. Johnson spoke out on the need to eradicate racism, delivered a commencement address at Howard University and famously declared that “We shall overcome” to a joint session of Congress.
But the landmark civil rights laws were passed because “a president decided to make racial justice a substantive legislative domestic priority – not just soaring rhetoric,” Perry said. “LBJ set the tone, not just in speeches but working behind the scenes to create legislation.”
The question, he said, is whether Biden’s rhetoric is followed by similar advances.
“I think people are certainly hoping that by spring we will begin to see some of these executive orders turn into legislative policy,” Perry said, “and if it doesn’t happen, then Democrats are going to have a lot of young people to answer to in the midterms of 2022.”
Throughout the presidential race, Biden cast his campaign as a rejection of Trump’s racial attitudes, and on Tuesday he targeted several high-profile moves by his predecessor. He said he was reversing a Trump order that banned government agencies from offering racial-sensitivity training, for example, and would rescind the report of a “1776 Commission” that Trump depicted as an antidote to political correctness.
Biden also took implicit aim at Trump’s habit of calling the coronavirus the “China virus.” One of the new president’s orders denounced anti-Asian bias and encouraged federal agencies combating the pandemic to make education part of their response.
Civil rights groups, while welcoming the actions, said they are far from enough.
Changing the police and criminal justice system are among the most urgent goals for many of these groups, as are fighting voter suppression. Beyond that, many activists say they want Biden to put resources toward reducing disparities in educational and economic opportunities.
Biden mentioned many of those aims in his remarks Tuesday in the White House State Dining Room, but he cautioned that dismantling systemic racism was a herculean undertaking. “It’s not going to be overnight,” he said. “We’re not going to eliminate everything.”
Black Americans trail Whites on every economic measure, including wealth, income, employment and homeownership. The disparities have existed for decades, even when comparing workers with similar education levels. The gaps, many economists say, stem in large part from government-sanctioned policies that continue to discriminate against Black people in lending, education, criminal justice and housing.
Fair-housing advocates characterized Biden’s early step as the minimum necessary to fight systemic racial disparities. Lisa Rice, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said civil rights groups have laid out a detailed timeline for the actions they expect the administration to take to “make the executive orders come to fruition.”
“You can tell me all day long you want to advance racial equality, but if I don’t see you doing substantive things like encouraging lending institutions to develop special-purpose credit programs, then I begin to wonder if this wasn’t just all talk,” Rice said. “Changing the policies is one thing. Now you’ve got to implement them.”
During his inaugural address, Biden said one of his administration’s goals would be to dismantle systemic racism. He has long said a first step on that path is a Cabinet that “looks like America.”
Biden picked Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to be vice president, the first Black and Asian American woman to win a nationally elected office – though it remains to be seen whether Harris will play a large role in Biden’s efforts on racial equity.
Biden has also nominated several African Americans to key Cabinet posts. Biden’s defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, was sworn in Monday. Susan Rice, whom Biden has chosen to lead the Domestic Policy Council, has been focused on ensuring that efforts toward equity are integrated into the administration’s broader policies.
And Biden has nominated Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Homeownership has long been an important way for Americans to build wealth; 46% of Black families owned homes compared with 75% of White families in 2020, a gap that has widened since 1976.
Yet strides in this area may not come without conflict. Biden has been criticized by some Republicans who say the focus on equity in his inaugural address suggested that his political opponents are racist.
“If you read his speech and listen to it carefully, much of it is thinly veiled innuendo calling us white supremacists, calling us racists, calling us every name in the book, calling us people who don’t tell the truth,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
And policies designed to increase housing equity that were scaled back by the Trump administration remain an object of criticism by some Republicans.
Under Tuesday’s actions, for example, HUD is expected to reinstate a 2013 rule that codified a decades-old legal standard known as “disparate impact.”
That rule was aimed at barring the housing industry from enacting policies such as requiring tenants to undergo a criminal-background check and using artificial intelligence to predict creditworthiness that, while seemingly race-neutral, have an adverse effect on Black and Latino Americans.
Civil rights attorneys say that applying the disparate-impact standard has helped reduce inequality. But some conservatives argue that this approach unfairly ties the hands of businesses, and the Trump administration changed the rule, saying it would free up firms to “innovate and take risks without the fear they will be second-guessed through statistics down the line.”
The Trump administration had also repealed regulations requiring communities to identify and address barriers to racial integration or risk losing federal funds. It argued that the regulations were too burdensome for communities and sucked up too many federal resources.
Then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson criticized the Obama-era rule for forcing communities to find “anything that looks like discrimination,” rather than responding to actual problems. And on Tuesday, Biden said he is pushing HUD to reinstate those regulations.
Biden faces an unusually turbulent landscape early in his presidency, and he often frames the country’s racial reckoning as one of several crises facing the country – along with the pandemic, the economic collapse and climate change.
Some critics on the right have suggested his emphasis on racial justice amounts to a show of favoritism, and Tuesday the president argued that advancing racial equality is not a gift to one part of the population. “When one of us is lifted up, we’re all lifted up,” Biden said. “And the corollary is true – when any one of us is held down, we’re all held back.”
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Nearly all GOP senators vote against impeachment trial for Trump, signaling likely acquittal
InternationalJan 27. 2021Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to reporters as he makes leaves the Senate on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges
By The Washington Post · Mike DeBonis, Seung Min Kim
WASHINGTON – All but five Republican senators backed former president Donald Trump on Tuesday in a key test vote ahead of his impeachment trial, signaling that the proceedings are likely to end with Trump’s acquittal on the charge that he incited the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
The vote also demonstrated the continued sway Trump holds over GOP officeholders, even after his exit from the White House under a historic cloud caused by his refusal to concede the November election and his unprecedented efforts to challenge the result.
Trump’s trial is not scheduled to begin until Feb. 9, but senators were sworn in for the proceedings Tuesday, and they immediately voted on an objection raised by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., questioning the constitutional basis for the impeachment and removal of a former president.
“Impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office,” he argued, adding that the trial would “drag our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol, the likes of which has never been seen in our nation’s history.”
But Democrats argue that Trump must be held accountable for the riot, which saw the Capitol overrun and claimed the lives of one police officer and four rioters. Paul’s argument, they said, suggests that presidents can act with impunity late in their terms.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that the Republican argument is “flat-out wrong by every frame of analysis – constitutional context, historical practice, precedent and basic common sense.”
The final vote was 55 to 45 to kill Paul’s objection, with GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania joining all 50 Democrats.
The largely partisan vote indicated that, nearly three weeks after the Capitol attack, much of the GOP anger over Trump’s actions immediately before and during the siege has faded. Notably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – who previously said Trump had “provoked” the Capitol mob – voted to back Paul and Trump, who has reached out to senators directly and through intermediaries to marshal support for his defense.
Convicting Trump would require support from 67 members of the 100-member body. The Democratic-led House has already impeached Trump a historic second time. If convicted in the Senate, the former president could be barred from holding future office with a subsequent majority vote.
Paul had sought to muster at least 34 votes in support of his objection to signal that there were enough senators with constitutional misgivings to secure an acquittal. After the vote, Paul declared that “the impeachment trial is dead on arrival.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been advising Trump on his defense, said Tuesday that he considered 45 votes to be “a floor, not a ceiling” for an acquittal vote.
“He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing, and the trial will be over in a couple of weeks,” he told reporters.
A few senators who voted with Paul disputed that Tuesday’s vote was a foolproof indication of the trial’s outcome. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for instance, told reporters he wanted to hear further debate on the constitutionality question but had not yet decided whether to convict Trump.
But several other Republicans, including Collins, drew the conclusion that a Trump acquittal was now fait accompli. “I think it’s pretty obvious from the vote today that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the president will be convicted,” she said. “Just do the math.”
Before the vote, Republican senators met for a private lunch where they heard from Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who has argued that a former president cannot be tried for impeachment.
Exiting the lunch, Turley said that he had presented a nuanced argument – that the benefits of condemning a now-departed president were “outweighed by the cost” of setting the precedent that Congress could retrospectively impeach and remove former presidents, creating a new political weapon.
The theory has gained traction among Republicans as a way to side with Trump while sidestepping the question of whether he “incited” the violence at the Capitol – the allegation that is at the heart of the impeachment effort.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he hoped that Tuesday’s vote would prompt Democrats to reassess if it was even worth having a trial.
“I hope my colleagues… look at it from the standpoint, is it wise to do this?” he said. “I would hope we would end this now. It’s just not wise. It’s not healing. It’s divisive.”
Democrats and many legal scholars have balked at the argument that a former president – or any former official – cannot be convicted of impeachment.
“The theory that the Senate can’t try former officials would amount to a constitutional get-out-of-jail-free card for any president who commits an impeachable offense,” Schumer said.
“It makes no sense whatsoever that a president – or any official – could commit a heinous crime against our country and then defeat Congress’ impeachment powers by simply resigning, so as to avoid accountability and a vote to disqualify them from future office.”
Schumer and other have raised the precedent sent in 1876, when Secretary of War William Belknap resigned a matter of moments before the House was set to vote on his impeachment on corruption charges. The House impeached Belknap anyway, and the Senate proceeded with a trial in which Belknap was acquitted.
McConnell did not speak before Tuesday’s vote or release any statement squaring his vote with his previous statements critical of Trump’s behavior. In the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack and the House impeachment, McConnell communicated to his GOP colleagues that he was open to supporting a conviction.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the majority whip, said Tuesday’s vote indicated that many Republicans consider the trial to be on “a very shaky foundation” but have not necessarily ruled out a vote to convict.
“I, as a juror, am going to wait until the trial commences and hear the arguments on both sides,” he said. “And I think that’s where the leader is.”
The former president’s aides also have started putting GOP senators on notice about the impending trial vote asserting that Trump will continue to be in a force within the Republican Party. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Brian Jack, a political aide to Trump, called him over the weekend to stress that Trump had no interest in starting a third party and that his political activity post-presidency would be with the GOP.
“I would say it wasn’t out of the blue,” Cramer said of the call, first reported by Politico. “I think it was strategic.”
Among the other key Republicans who aired constitutional concerns Tuesday was Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving GOP senator. He raised qualms about the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who is constitutionally mandated to preside over the impeachment trial of a sitting president, has opted not to appear at Trump’s second trial.
“That would send a pretty clear signal to me what Roberts thinks of the whole thing,” Grassley said. Roberts, through a Supreme Court spokeswoman, has declined to comment.
Rather than Roberts, presiding over the trial will be Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. – the Senate president pro tempore and longest-serving senator. While Leahy pledged Monday to act fairly in the role, the image of a Democrat presiding over the trial of a GOP former president led several Republicans to cry foul.
“Brazenly appointing a pro-impeachment Democrat to preside over the trial is not fair or impartial and hardly encourages any kind of unity in our country,” Paul said Tuesday. “No, unity is the opposite of this travesty we are about to witness.”
A few Republicans, however, said they believed that the trial of a former president is in fact constitutional. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters Tuesday that, in her view, “impeachment is not solely about removing a president, it is also a matter of political consequence.”
Despite the broad constitutional concerns among Republicans, it appeared Democrats had little intention of canceling or curtailing the trial.
Some, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the vote Tuesday suggested that House impeachment managers needed to make an even more detailed case against Trump – calling witnesses and presenting evidence attesting to the depravity of his behavior leading up to and during the events of Jan. 6.
Blumenthal said he believed that the trial would rekindle the anger many Republicans felt in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol assault: “They were in a different frame of mind than today when they were voting on the motion to dismiss,” he said. “And I want to bring back the feelings of revulsion and terror that were caused on that day.”
Other Democrats suggested that Republicans were simply trying to avoid contending with the political consequences of rendering a judgment on Trump’s conduct.
“They don’t want to argue the merits,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. “We have a president who incited a violent attack on the United States Capitol, and on our very democracy, so it’s absolutely critical that we call that out and make sure that future presidents understand that this is completely unacceptable behavior and will never be tolerated by the American people.”
Schumer on Tuesday said Trump’s behavior – which included spreading baseless theories about the November election being stolen, pressuring state officials to change vote tallies, encouraging supporters to rally in Washington as Congress certified the electoral college on Jan. 6, and then calling that day for ralliers to march to the Capitol – amounted to “the most despicable thing any president has ever done.”
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Yellen takes charge at Treasury with economic rebound weakening
InternationalJan 27. 2021Former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen speaks during the American Economic Association and Allied Social Science Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Elijah Nouvelage
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Saleha Mohsin, Christopher Condon, Erik Wasson
Janet Yellen won confirmation to become U.S. treasury secretary, building out President Joe Biden’s team as the administration struggles to win bipartisan support for a $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief plan for shoring up a weakening economic recovery.
The first woman to serve in the post, Yellen will take charge of a department with responsibilities spanning tax policy and government spending to financial stability, economic sanctions and foreign-exchange policy. She’ll also oversee ties with the Federal Reserve, which she previously chaired. She was confirmed by the Senate 84-15 Monday evening.
Yellen already saw the uphill fight the administration faces in its stimulus campaign last week, with Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee rejecting her arguments that historically low interest rates offer an opportunity for expansive deficit spending. White House economic adviser Brian Deese similarly ran into challenges from a bipartisan group of lawmakers Sunday, who asked for the basis for such a large package so soon after December’s $900 billion bill.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters Monday that lawmakers had received more details on the justification for the $1.9 trillion, and the bipartisan group is evaluating the information. Biden said at a press briefing Monday said he was open to negotiating, though “reluctant to cherry pick and take out one or two items here.”
A group of 16 senators, along with leaders of a group of House centrists, have engaged with the White House on the aid bill. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said Monday it would take “a lot of negotiating” to get a bipartisan deal.
Yellen is relatively new to a political sales role, after having mainly defended and explained Fed actions during her previous career. She brings a wealth of economic knowledge to the administration’s case, however.
The 74-year-old was also the first woman to head the U.S. central bank, which she left in early 2018 after overseeing a winding back of monetary stimulus after the last recession and its slow recovery.
“The symbolism and sense of technical expertise and decades of Washington experience that Janet Yellen brings will bring immediate credibility” to Biden’s economic agenda, said Tim Adams, who served as a Treasury undersecretary during the George W. Bush administration and now heads the Institute of International Finance, a banking group. “Yellen will be a key anchor of the economic team.”
Yellen has been a trailblazer throughout her career: She was the only woman out of 24 students in 1971 to earn a doctorate in economics from Yale University. She later taught economics at Harvard, and worked for more than 16 years at the Fed, including a stint as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco during the financial crisis.
Brooklyn, N.Y.-born Yellen follows Jimmy Carter appointee G. William Miller, who also served as treasury secretary after being Fed chair. She’ll be the first to have had both those jobs and head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, a role she had in the Clinton administration.
She had an early look at the challenges of the new job in her confirmation hearing at the Senate Finance panel last week. Her argument that it’s critical to “act big” now with emergency deficit spending to avoid long-term “scarring” in the economy was rejected by Republican lawmakers voicing concerns about rising debt.
“Right now, short term, I feel that we can afford what it takes to get the economy back on its feet, to get us through the pandemic,” Yellen told the committee. She highlighted the opportunity presented by historically low interest rates, and flagged that debt-servicing payments as a share of the economy are lower today than before the 2008 financial crisis.
Next steps on covid-19 relief are unclear. Biden on Monday didn’t rule out pursuing a Democrat-only route for passage, using an expedited process called reconciliation.
Under reconciliation, the House and Senate would need to first draft a budget resolution for fiscal 2021. House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth said his panel is preparing his chamber’s version to be on the House floor next week.
Biden left it to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to make the call on reconciliation.
“I don’t expect we’ll know whether we have an agreement, or to what extent the entire package will be able to pass or not pass, until we get right down to the very end of this process, which will be probably in a couple weeks,” Biden said.
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Tesla, BMW approved for slice of $3.5 billion EU battery aid
InternationalJan 27. 2021Tesla Model X SUVs stand on hydraulic platforms during assembly for the European market at the Tesla Motors factory in Tilburg, Netherlands, on Dec. 9, 2016. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Jasper Juinen
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Ewa Krukowska, Tara Patel, Stefan Nicola
The European Union paved the way for companies including Tesla and BMW to get about 2.9 billion euros ($3.5 billion) of state aid for battery projects that will strengthen the bloc’s position in the race to produce more electric vehicles.
The European Commission expects the support to trigger more than three times as much private investment, bringing the total spent to about 12 billion euros. The aid will go to 42 companies across a dozen countries, with beneficiaries also including Fiat Chrysler owner Stellantis and startup Northvolt.
The 27-nation bloc plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions from transport under the European Green Deal, an ambitious economic overhaul aimed at reaching climate neutrality by 2050. Along the way, the EU wants to reduce its reliance on EV batteries from Asian producers. The value of Europe’s battery market will reach 250 billion euros by 2025 and meet demands from the auto industry, according to the commission.
“Europe will cement in this way its position as a global hot spot for battery investment,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said. “This pan-European project will help revolutionize the battery market.”
More information about the amount of aid going to each project will be available in the public version of the Commission’s decision once it has agreed with member states and third parties on any confidential business secrets that need to be removed.
Aid for the projects, which are expected to be completed by 2028, will be disbursed by countries including Finland, Spain, France and Poland, and was coordinated by Germany. It follows a 3.2 billion-euro package to support a total of 9 billion euros of public and private spending that was coordinated by France and approved in December 2019.
Battery investment has poured in as Europe’s stricter pollution standards forces carmakers to embrace electric cars and limit carbon-dioxide emissions. BloombergNEF is forecasting 1.9 million sales of plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles in Europe this year, topping China and almost quadrupling the total expected in North America.
As part of the Green Deal, the EU wants to toughen its 2030 emissions-reduction target to at least 55% from 1990 levels, compared with the existing goal of a 40% cut. The overhaul is a key pillar of the region’s strategy to recover from the virus-induced recession.
European policy makers are aware the bloc’s key industries risk falling behind if they don’t fill manufacturing gaps in energy-storage technology. Lithium-ion batteries will power plug-in cars and also help balance electric grids transmitting renewable energy including wind and solar.
The battery initiative announced Tuesday got priority status as an Important Project of Common European Interest, or IPCEI. It will involve research and development of new technologies to reduce or completely eliminate cobalt or natural graphite and replace it with synthetics.
The projects will cover the entire battery value chain, from extraction of raw materials, design and manufacturing of battery cells and packs, and recycling and disposal. The aid is expected to contribute to development of technological breakthroughs, including different cell chemistries, novel production processes and other innovations.
Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has said the electric-car maker plans to add a battery-cell production facility at the vehicle-assembly plant it’s building near Berlin. The site will initially have capacity of more than 100 gigawatt-hours a year and eventually ramp up to as much as 250 gigawatt-hours, Musk said during a battery conference in November.
“I’m pretty confident at that point it would be the largest battery-cell plant in the world,” Musk said. He didn’t give time frames for when he expects the facility to reach those capacity levels.
The factory Tesla is building in the small town of Gruenheide will be the company’s first in Europe. It’s slated to start making vehicle in the middle of this year and eventually assemble as many as 500,000 cars annually. While construction is far along, the company is still awaiting final approval for the project from local authorities. It also has been hung up by environmental groups’ legal challenges.
Other carmakers investing in European battery production include PSA Group, which merged with Fiat Chrysler to form Stellantis. It set up a joint venture called Automotive Cells Company with French oil giant Total’s Saft unit in September. Sweden’s Northvolt will operate a plant with Volkswagen in Germany, with BMW also participating in the project and ordering billions’ worth of batteries from the startup.
Asian battery giants including South Korea’s LG Chem, Japan’s Panasonic and China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology also have said they’re going to set up or expand operations in the region.
By The Washington Post · William Booth, Karla Adam
LONDON – Britain is now, essentially, one big, high-stakes science experiment.
It is putting vaccines to the test amid one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, propelled by a variant of the virus that is more contagious and possibly more deadly than the original.
Britain is ahead of most countries in the vaccination race, but it is gambling that it can extend the interval between two doses to stretch limited supplies.
And while those vaccinations are underway, Britain is trying to determine how rigid and long a lockdown may be necessary to inhibit the virus as it has evolved. The variant now dominant here has been found in at least 50 other countries, including the United States.
So, pay attention, world. The findings that emerge from here in the coming weeks and months will have critical implications for you, too.
As of Monday, almost 6.6 million people in the United Kingdom had gotten the first of two doses of a coronavirus vaccine – either Pfizer-BioNTech or the homegrown Oxford-AstraZeneca jab – and another 470,000 have gotten the second booster shot, according to the government’s daily summary. That’s more inoculations per capita than the United States or any country in Europe. (Moderna is authorized here, too, but it will not arrive until March).
At the same time, Britain is fast approaching 100,000 dead, and on many days it records the highest per capita death toll from covid-19, the illness the novel coronavirus can cause, on the planet as it desperately tries to keep its hospitals from being overwhelmed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a Tuesday evening news briefing: “I’m deeply sorry for every life that has been lost, and, of course, as prime minister, I take full responsibility for everything the government has done. What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could and continue to do everything that we can.”
The entire country is now in its third week of its third national lockdown, with no idea when strict stay-home orders and school closures will be eased – and by how much.
April may be overly optimistic, scientists warn.
Yet even as it struggles, Britain remains a scientific powerhouse, with some of the best infectious-disease surveillance and modeling in the world, coupled with a cutting-edge consortium tracking the emergence of new variants. It also has a well-run national health-care system, which is collecting reams of data available to researchers.
British scientists reasonably expect to be among the first to answer some of the big outstanding questions of the pandemic: How well do vaccines, shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials, work in the real world? Do they save lives? Lessen disease? Block transmission? Will vaccines alone be enough to end lockdowns?
– – –
Britain’s vaccination campaign began on Dec. 8, and scientists say they should soon be able to begin to measure how well at least the first jabs are protecting the population.
Early results from Israel, which is also moving quickly to vaccinate, suggests that a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduced positive tests for coronavirus by a third.
The vaccination rollout in Britain has gone smoothly despite the government’s failure to launch a “world-beating” test-and-trace program and its stumbles getting personal protective equipment into hospitals in the early days of the pandemic.
Britain’s vaccinations are now taking place at more than 1,300 sites, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, horse racing courses, town halls, cathedrals, arenas, a shuttered cinema and a mosque.
Experts say that while there have been problems – London Mayor Sadiq Khan complained that the hard-hit capital has not gotten its fair share of doses yet – the country has been able to scale up quickly, in part because of its centralized, top-down National Health Service system.
“If you tell 30,000 GP doctors to do something, they will do it, and you can make it happen relatively quickly,” said Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, a London-based health think tank.
Officials aim by mid-February to have given a first round to 15 million people, including nursing home residents and caregivers, front-line health-care workers, those with other illnesses that put them at extreme risk, and everyone 70 and above.
But to get a shot to as many people as possible, the government is delaying second doses – administering boosters up to 12 weeks out, rather than the recommended three to four weeks.
AstraZeneca’s trials included some doses scheduled as far as 12 weeks apart. Pfizer, though, has warned that it does not have evidence to support such a long delay, and the British Medical Association on Sunday said the second doses of the Pfizer vaccine should be delayed no more than six weeks.
Other countries are watching the British experiment, hoping success here will mean they, too, can spread available doses further while waiting for additional shipments.
– – –
Pfizer and Moderna have said laboratory testing showed that their vaccines would be effective against the virus variant that has emerged in Britain. But researchers caution that the hopeful results must be seen in the real world.
The variant, first detected in London and southeastern England, may be 30% to 70% more transmissible, having evolved to bind more tightly to human cells, easing entry and replication, virologists have found. It may also be more deadly.
“It’s really a serious turn for the worse, unfortunately,” said John Edmunds, a professor of disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
England’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said that among 1,000 men age 60 or older who get infected, the original virus would kill 10. The new variant, he said, would kill 13 or 14 – an increase of at least 30%.
Understanding of the variant is still in its early stages. Preliminary research suggesting that it might spread more effectively in children than the original virus is being reexamined. But the early data sets, examining the fates of 50,000 patients here, appear robust, said Edmunds, who led one of the studies that prompted a government announcement about higher mortality on Friday.
Because the variant appears to spread more easily through the population, it leads to more infections, which send more people to the hospital, where more of them might die.
Edmunds said the variant appears to be more lethal. He and other disease modelers said they were careful to screen out other possible causes for higher mortality, such as how busy a hospital might be.
The scientists said they must await larger data sets to see whether younger people also face higher mortalities.
– – –
Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a third national lockdown on Jan. 4, after it was clear that regional restrictions were not sufficient to contain the spread of the variant.
People are supposed to stay in their homes except in special circumstances. Mixing between households is banned. Schools are closed, as are all but essential shops.
Three weeks in, the lockdown has begun to reduce the increase in new infections, even as the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths continue to soar.
There is growing pressure on Johnson to lift restrictions as soon as possible. But British health experts warn that getting through this wave of infections, especially against new variants, may be much harder, and take much more time, than previous spikes.
They advise that even with a mass vaccine rollout, mask use, social distancing and other restrictions should continue through spring and into the summer. They caution that some measures may need to be kept in place until the fall, when Britain promises to have all adults vaccinated.
Matt Keeling, a modeler at the University of Warwick and member of the government’s science advisory team, said there is 100 times more virus circulating now than in the summer, making more people more vulnerable, despite the deployment of vaccines.
“Vaccines are not a panacea,” said Keeling, who added that scientists still do not know how protective the jabs will be after the first and second doses and whether the vaccines can stop the chains of transmission.
Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious-disease epidemiology at University of Edinburgh, who also advises the British government, said a quick release from lockdown in April could lead to “a huge wave of infections.”
Woolhouse said that if even 90% of Britain’s 10 million most vulnerable people receive an effective vaccine, that would leave 1 million without immunity.
Researchers assume that as more and more people are protected against the virus by immune responses generated by vaccines or past infections, herd immunity will begin to offer some respite by blocking the virus’s ability to move from person to person freely.
When that threshold will be reached for the coronavirus is unknown.
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Stefan Nicola
Germany has embarked on a push to find out how prevalent the more contagious covid-19 strains are among those infected, relying on a new test that promises quicker results than genome sequencing.
About two-dozen laboratories in Europe’s biggest economy will re-test thousands of confirmed coronavirus samples this week to scour for the variants that have caused surging infections in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil.
They’re using some 100,000 specially designed PCR tests donated by TIB Molbiol Syntheselabor, a Berlin-based biotech firm that last year was among the first worldwide to develop kits to detect the coronavirus. The company’s new test, which is also based on the polymerase chain reaction diagnostic method, has been tweaked to identify certain mutations on the virus’s spike protein and can produce results within a couple hours, rather than the couple of days it takes for sequencing.
“The goal is to identify these cases and possibly isolate them more strictly,” said Olfert Landt, TIB’s managing director, who has developed tests for ailments ranging from swine flu to SARS. “It’s meant to give an accurate state of the nation.”
Europe has emerged as a global hot spot for the virus, with the EU urging member states to do more to track dangerous mutations with genome sequencing.
German authorities last week ratcheted up rules for wearing face masks, becoming the first major European country to require medical-grade protection in shops and on public transit in the hopes of controlling faster-spreading strains. They also quarantined a Berlin hospital after at least 20 staff and patients tested positive for the U.K. variant. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, on Sunday warned that faster-spreading mutations will inevitably “get the upper hand” in the country.
Germany still lacks more comprehensive data on the prevalence of the new variants in the country, checking only individual probes by paying laboratories roughly 200 euros ($243) per sequencing. TIB’s updated PCR test, developed in late December, costs roughly 3 euros, Landt said. The company has sold about 250,000 of the tests to dozens of labs in countries from Switzerland to Sweden.
Landt said he’s already bracing for the next mutation of the virus. If that happens, his company can come up with a new PCR test to detect that within 24 hours, he said.
Economies have been hit hard by Covid-19 and vaccines have been touted as a fix to return to pre-pandemic economic stability. However, nearly two-thirds or 64 per cent of consumers surveyed said they will not take a vaccination immediately, a survey from NielsenIQ showed.
Released on Tuesday, this survey also highlights people’s hesitation in changing their spending habits even as the vaccine rollout gains ground.
The vaccines also bring hope that many consumers will drop their deeply cautious approach toward spending during the pandemic.
Of those surveyed, 16 per cent said they will spend more on groceries, compared to 12 per cent who said they will spend less and the vast majority who said they will spend the same after the vaccine is made widely available.
To date, 72 per cent of consumers have been careful with their spending habits due to the impact of Covid-19, which suggests it will take a long time to reverse consumer habits and attitudes.
“The conversation surrounding the vaccine has been dominated by logistics: drug administration approvals, speed of production rates, countries vying to secure enough doses to vaccinate their populations, and most recent concerns around scaling and speeding up the rollout in countries around the world,” said Scott McKenzie, NielsenIQ’s global intelligence chief.
“Confidence levels around the vaccines and desire to take the vaccines certainly may change as countries begin more concerted rollouts and deliver education campaigns. But clear signals indicate that the arrival of vaccines won’t automatically flip a switch to put the world back on its pre-Covid path.”
Health concerns remain prominent even when vaccines become available, as more than half of consumers lack confidence in dining out (58 per cent), attending live sporting events (65 per cent) or travelling overseas (70 per cent) even upon confirmation of the timing when they could be inoculated.
Financial worries still loom large, with half of consumers (52 per cent) saying they won’t be confident in their personal finances despite being vaccinated.
During the earlier months of the pandemic, NielsenIQ analysis dissected how the pandemic forced many consumers to reset their shopping baskets, rationale, affordability gauge and homebody approach.
And now, as private and government forces reckon with the task of producing and rolling out vaccine doses, this latest survey conducted across 15 countries, provides context on challenges to returning to pre-pandemic economic stability.
Of the consumers who don’t plan to take the vaccine immediately, 41 per cent said they will wait for some time, while 12 said they won’t take it at all. Just over a third (36 per cent) indicated that they will take it right away, while 11 per cent remain undecided.
Thai consumers appear to be positive as more than half, or 53 per cent of those surveyed said they were confident of returning to work once vaccines are rolled out. Also, 32 per cent said they will spend more on saving and investment and 29 per cent would spend on out-of-home dining once the vaccine becomes widely available.
Conducted in December 2020, NielsenIQ surveyed more than 11,000 consumers across 15 countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, UK and the US.
NielsenIQ provides manufacturers and retailers with insights on the changing marketplace.
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Biden increases vaccine goal to 1.5 million shots a day
InternationalJan 26. 2021President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
By The Washington Post · Annie Linskey
WASHINGTON – For weeks President Joe Biden has emphasized that his goal for rolling out the coronavirus vaccine was an easy-to-remember 1 million shots a day, or 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days. On Monday, he suggested a much faster clip, saying he could envision 1.5 million vaccinations per day.
“I think with the grace of God . . . we’ll be able to get that to 1.5 million a day,” Biden told reporters.
A million a day is his minimum goal, Biden said, but “I hope we’ll be able to increase as we go along so we’ll get to 1.5 million. That’s my hope.”
The recalibration reflects the reality that the country is already close to the million-a-day pace, using procedures put in place by the Trump administration. Over the past few days, Biden’s nascent administration has faced criticism for setting an artificially low goal – though when it first made the pledge, circumstances were different and it seemed potentially hard to meet.
Overall, Biden on Monday projected a relatively optimistic timeline while acknowledging that the death toll from the pandemic could reach 660,000. By spring, he said, everyone who wants a vaccine should be able to get one.
“It’s going to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we’ve ever tried in this country, but I think we can do that,” he said. “I feel confident that by summer we’re going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity. I feel good about where we’re going, and I think we can get it done.”
Curbing the virus, and improving distribution of the vaccine, was a cornerstone of Biden’s presidential campaign, while President Donald Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic was a major reason for his election loss. Democrats hammered the idea that Trump, who contracted the coronavirus, had not been able to keep himself safe, let alone other Americans.
Now, Biden’s aides say his ability to deliver on the promise of containing the pandemic will be critical to his success and the only way to revive the struggling economy. Since taking office last week, Biden has sought to find a balance between promising that the virus can be vanquished and warning that dark days lie ahead.
His Monday comments came during the first formal question-and-answer session of his presidency with reporters. Because of pandemic restrictions few journalists, including one from The Washington Post, were allowed in the room with him. And rather than taking questions in the White House itself, the event took place in an auditorium in the adjacent Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Biden also sought to define what he means by urging “unity,” a longtime slogan that has come under growing scrutiny since he’s taken office. Republicans say it must include more concessions on Biden’s part, while Democrats question the notion of unifying with those who they say attacked democracy.
The president sought to provide a somewhat nuanced definition, describing a need to “eliminate the vitriol” in political discourse and suggesting that unity means respectful debate, not total agreement.
“We’re going to argue like hell – believe me, I know that,” Biden said. “But I think we can do it in a way that benefits the American people.”
For now, much of the political debate surrounds the pandemic and how best to address it and soften its economic consequences. Last week, as Biden was settling into the White House, critics said he was underpromising on his vaccination schedule, perhaps to make it easier to declare victory later.
Even with vaccine shortages and bottlenecks in delivery, the pace needed to meet the Biden’s goal – 1 million doses administered per day – was achieved Friday and on four other days of the previous eight, according to Washington Post data. The accelerating speed of the program also arguably undercut assertions by some Biden advisers that they were left no plan at all by the Trump administration.
When reporters noted this disparity last week, Biden pushed back, noting that when he first announced the million-a-day goal some experts said it was unrealistic. “When I announced it, you all said it’s not possible,” Biden said. “Come on, give me a break, man. It’s a good start.”
Scientists are studying the virus’s herd immunity threshold for humans – that is, the percentage of the population that needs to be immune for the spread of the virus to slow and eventually stop. Estimates range from about 40% to 80% of the population.
Biden noted that over the weekend he’d directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with some aspects of vaccine distribution in West Virginia. The new administration has promised to stand up 100 FEMA centers across the country where vaccinations will be available.
Separately, Biden said he will extend a ban on travelers from Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 other European countries that had been set to expire Tuesday under a proclamation signed by Trump shortly before he left office.
And he plans to impose new restrictions on those coming from countries where a new variant of the virus is spreading. He added travelers from South Africa to the list of those barred from entering the United States, a change set to take effect Saturday.
“With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants spreading, this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a news briefing Monday. She said the decision was part of the administration’s “science-driven response” to the coronavirus.
The administration is also taking steps to require travelers to quarantine after their arrival in the United States and to be tested a second time. Details on how those measures will be implemented are expected in the coming days.
In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said extending the ban and including South Africa “clearly will be helpful.” He said it is prudent to restrict travel of non-U. S. citizens.
“We have concern about the mutation that’s in South Africa,” Fauci said. “It is clearly different and more ominous than the one in the U.K.”
Biden brushed aside predictions that his proposed $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package would be torpedoed by Republican objections, saying it is too early in the process to tell whether the two sides can come together.
He said it will take several more weeks to determine whether Democrats will resort to a parliamentary process called reconciliation, which allows bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority instead of 60 votes.
“No one wants to give up on their position until there is no alternative,” Biden said. “I think we’re far from that point right now. The decision on reconciliation will depend on how this negotiation goes.”
In his early days, the president has been seeking to convey two ideas that may be difficult to reconcile – that his administration is wholly focused on the pandemic and throwing every resource at it, and also that it will take a long time to defeat it.
“I’m going to shut down the virus, but I never said I’d do it in two months,” Biden said Monday. “It took a long time to get here. It’s going take a long time to beat it.”
He noted that Monday deaths from covid-19, the illness that can be caused by the novel coronavirus, have ticked down in the past few days. Still, he said he believes the country will see as many as 660,000 deaths “before we begin to turn the corner in a major way.”
“We will still be talking about this into the summer,” Biden said. “We’re still going to be dealing with this issue in the early fall.”
As he frequently does, Biden also took the opportunity to remind Americans to wear masks. He has requested that masks be worn for his first 100 days in office and ordered that everyone on federal land and federally controlled property be required to wear them.