Democrats on the Senate floor are using today as an opportunity to make their broader case for voting rights reform.
In a circular argument, Republicans have accused Democrats of using the procedural vote today to show that Republicans are unwilling to work with them, and to make a case for eliminating the filibuster – and thus justifying their votes to kill debate on the For the People Act
“Today’s show vote is about Democrats building their case to blow up the filibuster and destroy this institution if they don’t get their way—which is exactly why we must preserve the filibuster,” Republican senator Mitt Romney said, calling the bill “divisive”.
Texas governor vetoes bill protecting dogs from abuse
The governor of Texas has pulled a surprise move, vetoing a bipartisan bill that would have provided greater protections for dogs against human abuse.
The Republican governor, Greg Abbott, vetoed a bill on Friday that would have made unlawful restraint of a dog a criminal offense, sending animal rights activists and legislators on both sides of the aisle into a fray and spurring the hashtag #AbbottHatesDogs.
State senate bill 474, dubbed the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act, aimed to ban the use of heavy chains to keep dogs tethered. The bill had bipartisan support in the legislature, passing the house 83-32 and the senate 28-3.
In his veto, Abbott said state statutes already existed to protect dogs from animal cruelty, and the penalties proposed in the bill of $500 to $2,000, and jail time of up to 180 days, were excessive. The bill said that dog owners could have dogs outside but could not restrain them with short lines and chains or anything that could cause injury and pain to the dog.
Dog owners would have faced a $500 penalty for a first offense and class C misdemeanor, and the next penalty would have been a class B misdemeanor, for a fine of up to $2,000 and up to three months in jail.
“Texans love their dogs, so it is no surprise that our statutes already protect them by outlawing true animal cruelty,” he wrote. He said the bill would compel every dog owner, on pain of criminal penalties, to monitor how much time a dog spends in the bed of a truck, leash length and other things.
Abbott said Texas was not a place for that kind of “micro-managing and over-criminalization”.
Today so far
It’s been a lively day so far and there is plenty more action coming up, especially as the US Senate prepares in about half an hour to hold the procedural vote on the For the People Act, the sweeping legislation designed to counter voter suppression efforts sweeping many Republican-controlled states of late.
My colleague Maanvi Singh on the US west coast will take over from here and bring you all the developments.
Here are some of the main news items in US politics up to this point.
Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchinissued a statement that he will vote this afternoon in favor of advancing the For the People Act voting rights legislation. It’s symbolic, as the Republicans will filibuster it and block the bill, but the prospect of Democratic unanimity on this after weeks of strife is a step forward for that party.
Pressure is building on Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris (who has taken control of border policies) to end the Title 42 rule adopted by the Trump administration in the coronavirus pandemic that allows the authorities to expel summarily migrants crossing the US-Mexico border seeking sanctuary.
Vice president Kamala Harris will preside over the vote today in the Senate over the voting rights legislation. This is an unusual move which Senator Richard Blumenthal called a “powerful” symbol of the importance given this issue by the White House.
Joe Biden is “absolutely revolted” by voter suppression legislation being passed in many Republican controlled states, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at today’s media briefing.
Interior secretary Deb Haaland announced today in remarks to the National Congress of American Indians 2021 mid year conference, a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies.
Today’s announcement is accompanied by a secretarial memo in which Haaland directs the department, under the supervision of the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, to prepare a report detailing available historical records, with an emphasis on cemeteries or potential burial sites, relating to the federal boarding school programs, NBC in Oklahoma reports.
Haaland recently reflected on the inter-generational trauma created by these policies in an op-ed for the Washington Post titled “My grandparents were stolen from their families as children. We must learn about this history.”
She said: “The interior department will address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be. I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the United States enacted laws and implemented policies establishing and supporting Indian boarding schools across the nation. The purpose of Indian boarding schools was to culturally assimilate Indigenous children by forcibly relocating them from their families and communities to distant residential facilities where their American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian identities, languages, and beliefs were to be forcibly suppressed. For over 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities.
The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative will serve as an investigation about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools.
Interior Department officials say the work will proceed in several phases and include the identification and collection of records and information related to the Department of Interior’s own oversight and implementation of the Indian boarding school program, as well as formal consultations with Tribal Nations, Alaska Native corporations, and Native Hawaiian organizations to clarify the processes and procedures for protecting identified burial sites and associated information.
Secretary Haaland will receive the final written report on the investigation by April 1, 2022.
Vice-president Kamala Harris will preside over the US Senate for this evening’s procedural vote on the For the People Act.
Democratic hold-out Joe Manchin has now said he will vote with the rest of the Democrats in the chamber to advance the legislation to the debate stage.
This won’t happen, because the Republicans are expected to filibuster the bill and prevent Democrats getting the 60 votes needed to move the bill on.
But the prospect of unanimity from the Democrats in the vote, expected at 5.30pm, has brightened the skies for them and Harris gracing the chamber, in a slightly unusual move, to preside over the vote is a striking one.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, just popped up on CNN, telling Jake Tapper:
“It’s symbolic but it’s a powerful symbol and a sign of the White House’s engagement,” Blumenthal said.
“It’s only an opening round, it’s a vote to move forward to talk about the bill.”
Republicans will be unanimous in opposition, Blumenthal predicted, and the bill will be blocked.
“Make no mistake, we are by no means done after today, it’s just the beginning,” he said, prior to future versions of the legislation coming to the floor – including if that means persuading Manchin and other moderate Democrats to support reforming the filibuster rule.
“I’m in favor of abolishing it,” he said.
Pressure on Biden to end pandemic-related exclusions, expulsions at US-Mexico border
Joe Biden denounced, while he was campaigning for the White House, a program put in place under Donald Trump that returned tens of thousands of Central American asylum seekers to violent Mexican border cities to wait as their cases wound through US courts.
It was known as the Remain in Mexico policy and on his first day in office Biden halted the program, allowing some who had been waiting in danger for a long time to enter the US to go through their legal applications.
Yet, Reuters reports, he kept in place a Trump-era health order, known as Title 42, that allows US officials to rapidly expel migrants at US borders during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, five months into Biden’s presidency, the scenes at the Mexican border are little changed.
Many of the families living in tents in Reynosa – just across from McAllen, Texas – arrived after they were expelled by U.S. officials to Mexico without a chance to present their asylum claims.
Since Biden took office, U.S. border authorities have recorded more than 400,000 expulsions under Title 42, according to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. The vast majority of those expelled are Mexicans and Central Americans. Repeat crossings are common.
A White House spokesperson said Title 42 was a public health directive, not an immigration enforcement tool, and was necessary on health grounds. The Biden administration says it is working to strengthen the asylum system along the border.
But advocate groups, U.N. officials and even some fellow Democrats here say the continuation of Title 42 is subjecting migrants to the same dangers – kidnapping, extortion, and sexual violence – as the policies of the Trump administration.
Nearly 3,300 migrants and asylum seekers stranded in Mexico since Biden took office have been kidnapped, raped, trafficked or assaulted, according to a report here by the New York-based group Human Rights First released Tuesday.
“We believe that it is time to end Title 42,” Kelly Clements, the deputy high commissioner for the United Nations refugee agency, told Reuters. “We think now it is having the effect of sending more people, and children in this case, into harm’s way.”
The Reuters report has some more detail on this and also features the harrowing account of Salvadoran asylum seeker Liset Ortiz, who was kidnapped in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, on her way to the United States. You can read the full story here.
The vote in the US Senate is just under two hours away. Here’s Joe Biden.
Here’s Senate majority leader and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer welcoming Joe Manchin’s agreement to vote this afternoon in favor of advancing the voting rights For the People Act to the debate stage.
Republicans will block this, but if things now go as expected, Schumer will at least be able to display party unity on the Senate side of the Hill.
He’s flanked here by Senators Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
And here’s more of Manchin.
Manchin will vote with fellow Dems to advance voting rights bill
Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has put an end to a smidge of suspense on Capitol Hill, by issuing a statement that he will vote this afternoon in favor of advancing the For the People Act voting rights legislation to the next stage of congressional consideration.
This is entirely symbolic, unfortunately, as all Republicans in the Senate are expected to support filibustering the legislation – so the bill will not garner the necessary 60 votes to advance to the debate stage (US Senate is split 50-50 Dem-GOP) and will be blocked.
But the fact that the Democrats in the Senate will now be expected to demonstrate unanimity in advancing the bill is something/
Manchin has proposed a compromise version of the bill, which has won support from Barack Obama, Stacey Abrams, a tentative nod from the White House and zero Republican support. He does not support passing the bill as currently written (SR1).
But it appears that after much discussion and thought, Manchin will support his colleagues in voting to advance this bill to the debate stage.
The procedural vote is due at 5.30pm ET today.
In a statement moments ago, Manchin said: “Over the past month, I have worked to eliminate the far reaching provisions of S.1, the For the People Act – which I do not support. I’vefound common ground with my Democratic colleagues on a new version of the bill that ensures our elections are fair, accessible and secure.”
He added: “Today I will vote ‘YES’ to move to debate this updated voting legislation as a substitute amendment to ensure every eligible voter is able to cast their ballot and participate in our great democracy.”
Democrats believe this is an important step to bring Manchin on board with the party on the bill, later perhaps persuading him and Arizona moderate Senator Kyrsten Sinema to agree to reform the filibuster so the Republican minority can’t crush Biden legislation and bills like SR1 can be passed with a simple majority (Kamala Harris has a tie-break vote in the Senate).
The Biden administration warns: Democracy is in peril.
As we await the procedural vote in the US Senate on the For the People Act and various lawmakers and factions set out their stalls on Capitol Hill, here’s a quick recap on the main events of the morning so far in US political news.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Joe Biden is “absolutely revolted” by attempts to restrict voting access going on in many Republican-led states across the country, hence the priority to pass voting rights protections at the federal level.
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging those who are still voluntarily avoiding getting vaccinated against Covid-19 to get the vaccine, saying that nearly every US coronavirus death at this point is “entirely preventable”.
With just a few hours left before the vote is due in the US Senate on whether to advance the For the People Act voting rights legislation to the next stage, allowing debate on the bill, pivotal Democratic Senator Joe Manchin says he’s not made up his mind yet.
Key votedue today on the Biden administration’s voting rights legislation. The US Senate has been underway since 10am ET and the vote is expected on whether to invoke cloture (allow debate to start on the bill) at 5.30pm ET.
Bleach peddler: Trump consumed ‘miracle cure’
The leader of a spurious church which peddled industrial bleach as a “miracle cure” for Covid-19 is claiming he provided Donald Trump with the product in the White House shortly before the former president made his notorious remarks about using “disinfectant” to treat the disease.
Mark Grenon, the self-styled “archbishop” of the Genesis II “church”, has given an interview from his prison cell in Colombia as he awaits extradition to the US to face criminal charges that he fraudulently sold bleach as a Covid cure.
In the 90-minute interview he effectively presents himself as the source of Trump’s fixation with the healing powers of disinfectant.
“We were able to give through a contact with Trump’s family – a family member – the bottles in my book,” Grenon says. “And he mentioned it on TV: ‘I found this disinfectant’.”
Ahead of an important procedural vote on Democrats’ expansive voting rights bill, the feeling among Senate Democrats is a mixture of gloom and defiance.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on advancing Democrats’ voting rights package, the For the People Act, Tuesday afternoon and the wide expectation among Democrats and Republicans is the bill will be blocked through the filibuster, a legislative maneuver that lets a minority of senators stall or block movement on a bill.
For Democrats, in a perfect world the failure of the voting rights bill would trigger an effort in Congress to defang the filibuster.
But there is no support among the Republican caucus for gutting the filibuster, and not quite enough unity in their own caucus to get rid of the rule.
That leaves them with an unclear path forward on passing the Biden administration’s agenda or key protections for voting as Republican state lawmakers across the country push new laws that critics say are meant to hinder voting by voters of color.
“My hope is that if what we see is a unified effort to filibuster voting rights it will stiffen the spine of my Democratic colleagues to protect our democracy,” Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Democrat, said.
“No Senate rule is more important than the constitutional right to vote,” Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia said in referencing to protecting the filibuster.
Yesterday, former president Barack Obama, in a rare move, weighed in on the expected filibuster of the voting rights package saying “that’s not acceptable.”
Other Democratic standard bearers have offered similar denunciations and warnings. Democratic outside groups have announced plans to pour millions into voting rights initiatives in the aftermath of the voting rights bill vote.
That spending reflects the sense of defiance among Democratic lawmakers as well.
“If Republicans say that they are willing to veto even a discussion about protecting our democracy then that puts it directly to Democrats. Are we going to stand up and be counted?” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said.
“Or are we going to let the Republican veto hold? I think that it’s an important step today to get every senator on record about willingness to talk about protecting our democracy. And if that fails then the Democrats are going to have to talk about what the next path forward is.”
Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said it was important for Democrats to keep a sense of hope.
“That doesn’t mean that if we fail today there won’t be disappointment but there will never be despondency. We will regroup and plan anew and charge right back up the mountain,” he said.
Fissures within the Democratic party persist though. Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, one of the most conservative members of the Senate Democratic caucus penned an op-ed published Monday night explaining her ongoing opposition to changing the filibuster, a position at odds with her colleagues.
“If [Senator ] Mitch McConnell believes that he will get even the tiniest advantage from removing the filibuster in the future, he will do it, regardless of what Democrats have done in the past,” Warren said in reference to McConnell, the Senate minority leader.
The op-ed argued there is a longterm risk for Democrats if they gut the filibuster now.
“Certainly there is risk to get rid of the filibuster but there is risk if we let the status quo where nothing happens continue,” Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado, another moderate Democrat, said.
Biden “absolutely revolted” by voting restrictions being enacted in GOP-led states – White House
White House press secretary Jen Psaki is holding her media briefing, hot on the heels of the coronavirus team briefing.
As the For the People Act legislation heads for a likely doomed vote in the US Senate at 5.30pm ET today, Psaki emphasized one of the reasons why passing legislation on this topic is a huge priority for Joe Biden and the efforts are “not over” even if they go nowhere on Capitol Hill this afternoon.
Psaki told reporters that Biden is “absolutely revolted” by attempts to restrict voting access going on in many Republican-led states across the country.
Here’s our Sam Levine (we recommend you sign up for his Fight to Vote news letter):
Anthony Fauci, the US’s top public health official, who leads the White House coronavirus team and is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, used the briefing just now to outline how the US has been following the UK in terms of infections recently.
Just as the UK came to be dominated by the UK variant and now the Delta variant that originated in India, so the same thing is happening in the US, leading health officials to speak of the joy of celebrating the summer while being on guard against a resurgence of the disease in the coming months – especially if people continue to shun the vaccine.
The Delta variant now accounts for 95% of new cases in the UK and youth are driving new infections, Fauci said, citing a study by Imperial College, London.
Fauci pointed out that the available vaccines are up to 93% effective against serious illness caused by the variants currently still spreading.
The Delta variant “is currently the greatest threat to the US in our attempt to eliminate Covid-19…we have the tools so let’s use them to crush the outbreak,” Fauci added.
The US expects to have 70% of adults over the age of 30 vaccinated by July 4th and to reach that goal with all adults “a few weeks” later, which is behind schedule.
Fauci was asked during press Q & A whether, if 20% to 30% of US adults continue to avoid being vaccinated, whether we’ll see the kind of surge and deaths that we saw in previous surges at the height of the pandemic, when 1,000 people were dying a day.
He said he would expect local or regional surges but “I do not foresee a surge like we saw over the last 18 months…even if we do we will not see 1,000 deaths a day.”
Fauci appeals to the “recalcitrant” not to persist in avoiding being vaccinated.
Nearly every US coronavirus death at this point “entirely preventable” – CDC
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging those who are still voluntarily avoiding getting vaccinated against Covid-19 to get the vaccine.
“Every death is tragic. Nearly every death is, at this point, entirely preventable,” she said at the White House coronavirus team briefing today, which is still underway.
“We know our vaccines work,” Walensky added.
She warned that US health experts are very wary of a situation where variants currently dominating new infections – until recently the variant that originated in the UK and now the variant that originated in India – “could lead to further mutations that evade our vaccines” and if more people don’t get vaccinated it could produce “a chain that could lead to a more dangerous strain”.
Walensky also warned that 20% of people who’ve had Covid-19 are reporting various symptoms associated with “long Covid” – symptoms that persist more than four weeks after initial infection.
She listed “brain fog”, headaches, heart palpitations, coughing, joint pain, insomnia and prolonged loss of the sense of taste and/or smell.
The White House coronavirus briefing has begun. Jeff Zients, response coordinator since 2021, succeeding Deborah Birx, is leading up to letting everyone know that Joe Biden’s goal to have 70% of US adults vaccinated with at least one shot by the July Fourth holiday is a bit behind.
Meanwhile, he’s talking about the fact that new cases of Covid-19 in the US are down 90% since Biden took office in January, when the pandemic was at its peak a year after the first infections on the west coast.
More than 1,000 people will gather on the White House lawn on July 4, Zients said. That’s a much bigger gathering that the kind of neighborhood backyard cookouts that the president predicted would be possibly by July 4 as the US declared “independence from the virus”.
Zients says that 16 states and the District of Columbia have achieved the goal of 70% of adults having had at least one shot. The US expects to reach 70% of adults over the age of 27 having had at least one shot by the end of the July 4 holiday weekend..
He predicts the 70% of all adults goal will be achieved “a few weeks after”. Just to note, the struggle to make the numbers in the US is less about vaccine supply now and more about people declining the vaccine.
Zients said the aim is for “America to look like America again….the virus is in retreat, we are entering a summer of joy.”
He added: “But we are not done. Individuals who are still unvaccinated are still at risk.” Zients noted that the Delta variant, which originated in India, is still spreading across the US and younger people appear to be more vulnerable to it.
The current vaccines are highly effective against the Delta variant.
Donald Trump has “zero desire” to be speaker of the House of Representatives, his spokesman has said, though the former president continues to entertain discussion of the outlandish idea.
Under congressional rules, the House speaker does not have to be a sitting member of Congress, though all of them so far have been.
The notion of a Trump speakership was raised by his former adviser Steve Bannon. Trump himself called it “so interesting” last week, while current House minority leader and aspiring speaker Kevin McCarthy perhaps ironically misspoke when he seemed to encourage speculation.
McCarthy told Fox News: “You know, I’ve talked to President Trump many times, he tells me he wants to be speaker, and I think he should be president.”
A spokesperson later said the California representative had meant to say Trump thought McCarthy should be speaker.
On Monday, Trump was asked about the idea in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. Characteristically, he failed to fully disown it.
“Well,” Trump said, “I’ve heard the talk and it’s getting more and more. But it’s not something that I would have considered but … certainly there’s a lot of talk about it.
“I have a good relationship with Kevin, and hopefully we will do everything traditionally … so I have seen talk about that but it’s nothing that I’ve ever considered.”
Punchbowl News asked Jason Miller, Trump’s outgoing spokesman, for comment.
Trump, Miller said, “has zero desire to be speaker”.
Oregon progressive Senator Jeff Merkley and Minnesota’s Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate, Amy Klobuchar, introduced the For the People Act, along with majority leader Chuck Schumer, in the Senate in March.
Today they probably know it is going to be parked in a cul-de-sac and the Republicans, aided by Democrat Joe Manchin, are going to throw away the keys.
Here’s what Merkley tweeted yesterday.
And here’s Klobuchar earlier today reminding everyone that Barack Obama has spoken out to support a compromise version of the bill put forward by Manchin (which has garnered, to this moment, no Republican support and, therefore, is going nowhere without changes).
The vote due at 5.30pm ET today is not on the whether to pass the bill or make changes to the bill, it is merely on whether to invoke cloture and begin debating the bill.
Final victim of Florida condo collapse identified by relative
The final victim of the condo building collapse in Florida has been identified, a relative said Monday, more than a month after the middle-of-the-night catastrophe that ultimately claimed 98 lives.
Estelle Hedaya, an outgoing 54-year-old with a love of travel, was the last victim identified, ending what her relatives described as a torturous four-week wait.
Her younger brother, Ikey Hedaya, confirmed the identification to the Associated Press. The news comes just days after rescuers officially concluded the painstaking and emotionally heavy task of removing layers of dangerous debris and pulling out dozens of bodies.
“She always mentioned God anytime she was struggling with anything,” he said. “She had reached a different level spiritually, which allowed her to excel in all other areas.”
Her brother said he is drawing strength from God, just as he’d seen his sister do in troubling times. A funeral was scheduled for Tuesday.
The site of the 24 June collapse at the oceanside Champlain Towers South has been mostly swept flat, the rubble moved to a Miami warehouse. Although forensic scientists are still at work, including examining the debris at the warehouse, authorities said there are no more bodies to be found where the building once stood.
In the end, crews found no evidence that anyone who was found dead had survived the initial collapse, fire chief Alan Cominsky has said.
Search teams spent weeks battling the hazards of the rubble, including an unstable portion of the building that teetered above, a recurring fire and Florida’s stifling summer heat and thunderstorms. They went through more than 14,000 tons of broken concrete and rebar before finally declaring the mission complete.
Miami-Dade fire rescue’s urban search-and-rescue team pulled away from the site Friday in a convoy of firetrucks and other vehicles, slowly driving to their headquarters. The fire chief saluted their bravery, saying they had worked 12-hour shifts while camping out at the site and also dealing with the heavy emotional burden.
Linda March, a 58 year-old attorney and fellow former New Yorker, was close friends with Hedaya. Oddly the two were among the last three victims to be identified, along with 24-year-old Anastasia Gromova of Canada.
Leah Sutton, who knew Hedaya since birth and considered herself a second mother to her, said she and March were both “forces to be reckoned with”.
“My two beautiful amazing fearless friends saved for last, have to believe there was a reason for them to be last,” she said Monday. “Estelle’s love of God was unbelievable and unwavering.”
The dead included members of the area’s large Orthodox Jewish community, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady, her family and their nanny, along with an entire family of four that included a local salesman, his wife and their two young daughters, four and 11, who were buried in the same coffin.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear what will happen at the collapse site. A judge presiding over several lawsuits filed in the collapse aftermath wants the property sold at market rates, which would bring in an estimated $100m or more. Some condo owners want to rebuild, and others say a memorial should be erected to remember the dead.
California and New York City to mandate vaccine for government workers
California and New York City announced Monday that they would require all government employees to get the coronavirus vaccine or face weekly Covid-19 testing, and the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first major federal agency to require healthcare workers to receive the shot.
Meanwhile, in a possible sign that increasingly dire health warnings are getting through to more Americans, vaccination rates began to creep up again, offering hope that people who have previously been reluctant to receive the shot may finally be getting inoculated.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all municipal workers – including teachers and police officers – will be required to get vaccinated by mid-September or face weekly Covid-19 testing, making the city one of the largest employers in the US to take such action.
“Let’s be clear about why this is so important: this is about our recovery,” de Blasio said.
California said it will similarly require proof of vaccination or weekly testing for all state workers and healthcare employees starting next month.
The move comes amid a surge in cases in California, which have risen 218% over the last two weeks, while hospitalizations are up 62%, according to New York Times data. In the month since California lifted all Covid safety restrictions for its “grand reopening”, the state capitol has reinstated a mask requirement after several aides contracted Covid-19, and Los Angeles county is again requiring mask-wearing indoors, even for people who are fully vaccinated. The San Francisco Bar Alliance, which represents almost 500 bars, is recommending that members require guests to show proof of vaccination to enter the establishments.
California saw a 16% increase in vaccinations over last week and is one of the country’s most vaccinated states with 77% of adults having received at least one vaccine dose, but there are still plenty of unprotected people to transmit the virus, experts say.
“Primarily, we’re seeing infections in the unvaccinated,” said George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
The VA’s move came on a day when nearly 60 leading medical and healthcare organizations issued a call through the American Medical Association for health care facilities to require their workers to get vaccinated.
“I am doing this because it’s the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop,” Veterans affairs secretary Denis McDonough told the New York Times.
Elsewhere, St Louis became the second major city to mandate that face masks be worn indoors, regardless of vaccination status, joining Los Angeles in re-imposing the orders.
“For those who are vaccinated, this may feel like punishment, punishment for doing the right thing,” St Louis county executive Sam Page, a Democrat, said Monday. “I’ve heard that, and I feel that frustration.”
Dr Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner, applauded the moves but called on President Joe Biden to “lead by example” and impose similar mandates on federal employees and in public venues where the government has jurisdiction, like on planes, trains and government buildings.
She also said all hospitals and nursing homes need to require all employees get vaccinated.
“We need vaccine mandates and vaccine verification,” Wen said. “We’re well past the time for the Biden administration to get on board with this. What we’re doing is not working. Doing more of the same is not the answer here.”
The White House has so far deferred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on masking guidance, which recommends that those who are unvaccinated wear masks indoors. But officials acknowledged over the weekend that they are considering changing that guidance and recommending that the vaccinated also wear masks indoors.
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.
Wen, who is also an emergency physician and public professor at George Washington University, said public health experts have been worrying for months about this very scenario.
“We were worried the honor system would not work, the unvaccinated would be behaving as if they’re vaccinated and people would think the pandemic is over,” she said. “That’s precisely what has happened, and it’s incredibly frustrating.”
Dr Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist Yale’s School of Public Health, said the U.S. should not have been caught off guard after watching the Delta variant ravage India in May and then land in the United Kingdom, Israel and other highly vaccinated nations with force last month.
“We have learned multiple times to not take anything for granted with CovidO,” he said.
The US is around 67% immune from Covid-19 when prior infections are factored, but it will need to get closer to 85% to crush the resurgent virus, said Dr Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
“So we need a lot more vaccinations. Or a lot more infections,” he tweeted Sunday.
Jha said the nation has to brace for another rough few months. The disease has killed almost 611,000 people in the US since the pandemic started last year.
Vaccinations ticked up over the weekend, with about 657,000 vaccines reported administered Saturday and nearly 780,000 on Sunday, according to CDC data. The seven-day rolling average on Sunday was about 583,000 vaccinations a day, up from about 525,000 a week prior.
Public health experts on Monday said the uptick in vaccinations is encouraging but warned that it’s far too early to say if the numbers mean that millions of unvaccinated people are finally beginning to overcome their reticence.
The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the country shot up over the past two weeks, from more than 19,000 on 11 July to nearly 52,000 on 25 July , according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Some prominent conservative and Republican voices that have spent months casting doubt on the vaccination effort have recently started sounding a different tune.
House minority whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, was among the members of the GOP Doctors Caucus who held a press conference at the Capitol late last week imploring their constituents to lay lingering doubts aside.
A week ago, on 19 July, Fox News host Sean Hannity declared: “It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccinations.”
And in Tennessee, the brother of a popular local conservative radio host who had been a vaccine skeptic urged listeners to get vaccinated as his brother was in critical care in the hospital battling Covid-19.
“For those listening, I know if he were able to tell you this, he would tell you, ‘Go get vaccinated. Quit worrying about the politics. Quit worrying about all the conspiracy theories,’” Mark Valentine said of his brother, Phil Valentine, Thursday on WWTN-FM in Nashville.
Arizona secretary of state tells Trump before election lie rally: get over it
Arizona’s secretary of state had a message for Donald Trump before he appeared in Phoenix on Saturday: “Take your loss and accept it and move on.”
Trump was set to speak at an event organised by Turning Point Action, a conservative group, and called the “Rally to Save Our Elections!”
Republicans in the most populous county in Arizona continue to pursue a controversial audit of ballots in an attempt to prove Trump’s claim that his loss to Joe Biden in the state, and nationally, was caused by widespread voter fraud. It was not.
Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, spoke to CNN on Friday. Asked what she wanted to tell Trump, she said: “Well, I mean, like most grownups, take your loss and accept it and move on … Nothing that’s going on here is going to change the outcome, and, really, this is nothing more than being a sore loser.”
Hobbs also said Trump’s appearance – like support for his lies from local Republican officials, office holders and congressional hopefuls lining up to speak at Saturday’s event – was dangerous.
“The bottom line is it doesn’t matter what he says or does,” she said. “Nothing is going to change the outcome of the 2020 election. But it also doesn’t change how dangerous this is.”
Trump’s lie about electoral fraud stoked the deadly attack on the US Capitol in Washington on 6 January this year. He retains power in the Republican party, which has swung behind him in seeking to obstruct investigations of the assault.
“The bottom line is that Arizonians are tired of being led by conspiracy theorists,” Hobbs said. “They don’t support this fake audit, and they’re ready for leaders who are going to put those partisan games aside and deal with real issues.”
Hobbs is hoping to become governor of Arizona. Midterm elections will also see a key Arizona Senate seat up for grabs again. Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and a prominent campaigner for gun control reform, won the seat on Biden’s coattails last year. But that was to complete a term and he must run again to secure a full six years in the seat.
On Friday, the former president blasted “Rinos”, or “Republicans in Name Only” whom he regards as insufficiently loyal. One GOP Arizona state senator offered a pithy reply.
“If he hadn’t started an insurrection in DC and gotten kicked off here,” Paul Boyer wrote on Twitter, “I could’ve responded directly to him. So there’s that.”
Trump said his remarks would be broadcast by networks including Newsmax and One America News, upstart rightwing operations which have sought to challenge Fox News on the right of the political spectrum.