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A run of better news on COVID lifts Biden

President Joe Biden visits a Veterans Affairs COVID-19

President Joe Biden visits a Veterans Affairs COVID-19 vaccine center in Washington on Monday. Credit: KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Inching closer to normality

"COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID," Donald Trump said in mocking complaints in late October. The day after the election, he said, "you won't hear about it any more." That prediction held up as well as those he made a year ago as president that the disease would soon disappear.

Fighting the pandemic is what President Joe Biden talks about more than anything else. The public so far likes what it hears — 68% of Americans in an ABC News/Ipsos poll approved of his approach. Last week, for the first time, a majority of Americans in a Gallup Poll said the nation's coronavirus situation is getting better, not worse.

Biden will be able to point to evidence to justify a brightened outlook when he delivers a prime-time address on Thursday night to commemorate the first anniversary of the rush to shut down as infections surged out of control.

With vaccinations ramping up, 24% of all adults, 60% of those 65 and older and 70% of those 75 and older have received at least their first dose, according to Andy Slavitt, a White House coronavirus adviser. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced long-awaited guidance Monday for those fully vaccinated, including that they won't need masks or distancing to gather with others who've also had their shots.

"With more and more people vaccinated each day, we are starting to turn a corner," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

The White House on Monday said direct relief checks to millions of eligible Americans will likely be disbursed by "the end of the month," as the U.S. House prepares for a final vote this week on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. House Democratic Leaders said a final vote on the package that cleared the Senate over the weekend could come Tuesday or Wednesday.

When Biden speaks Thursday, he will temper optimism with caution — it's too soon to throw away the masks and to relax medical vigilance against troublesome variants. Resistance to vaccination will make herd immunity harder to reach. Biden will grieve again for the Americans of the 525,000 dead from the disease. But his message will "look forward, highlighting the role that Americans will play in beating the virus and moving the country toward getting back to normal," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Janison: Mail-in myths

Republicans looking to rewrite voting laws to their advantage have taken aim at mail-in voting, such as in Georgia where they are prepared to repeal "no-excuse" absentee voting. Democrats in Congress want to expand it. But the effect of unrestricted absentee voting on outcomes may be less than either party thinks, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

A nonpartisan Stanford University study researched "no-excuse" voting in Texas, where only those 65 and over may vote by mail without explanation. But when compared with 64-year-old voters who required an excuse, there was no higher turnout among 65-year-olds, the research found.

The broader conclusions of their report are striking. "Despite the extraordinary circumstances of the 2020 election, vote-by-mail’s effect on turnout and on partisan outcomes is very muted," authors of the study wrote. "Voter interest appears to be far more important in driving turnout."

This defies the widespread impression that Biden beat Trump because of mail-in votes and that the practice drove up participation to levels it would not have reached otherwise.

Rewriting rules on probing campus sex assaults

Joe Biden on Monday ordered his administration to review federal rules guiding colleges in their handling of campus sexual assaults, a first step toward reversing a contentious Trump administration policy.

Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made sweeping changes to the way colleges respond to sexual harassment and assault, with provisions that bolster the rights of the accused and narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and the scope of cases schools are required to address. It was seen as a swing away from Obama-era guidance that focused on protecting victims.

But rather than reverting to Obama’s 2011 policies, some legal experts expect Biden to seek a middle ground that equally protects accused students and their accusers, The Associated Press reported.

"The policy of this administration is that every individual, every student is entitled to a fair education — free of sexual violence — and that all involved have access to a fair process," Jennifer Klein, co-chair and executive director of the Gender Policy Council, told reporters at a White House briefing.

The immediate impact of the order will be limited. The process of rewriting the rules can take years to complete.

RNC to Trump: About your face

The Republican National Committee rebuffed a cease-and-desist demand from Donald Trump’s attorneys, who demanded the party organization to stop using the former president’s name and likeness in fundraising appeals, Politico reported.

RNC chief counsel Justin Riemer asserted that the committee "has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech, and it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals."

The former president has begun to assert greater control over how his name is used to attract fundraising dollars. Trump has long been sensitive about people making money off his name.

But the RNC has some good news for Trump on the money front. It is moving part of its spring donor retreat next month to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach from a nearby hotel for a dinner speech that will be headlined by the former president, The Washington Post reported. The party will be paying Trump’s club for the use of the facilities and the meal.

From White House to doghouse

Biden's two German Shepherds were sent back to the Biden family home in Delaware last week after aggressive behavior at the White House involving the younger dog, Major Biden, CNN reported.

Major, a 3-year-old who was adopted in November 2018 from an animal shelter, had what one of the people described as a "biting incident" with a member of White House security. He has displayed agitated behavior on multiple occasions, including jumping, barking, and "charging" at staff and security, according to the report.

Champ, at 13, is less energetic.

Roger Stone bodyguard accused in riot

Two more men wanted in the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol were arrested over the weekend, including one who reportedly served as a bodyguard earlier that day to Trump’s longtime political confidant Roger Stone, federal authorities said Monday.

The FBI said Roberto Minuta, 36, of Hackettstown, New Jersey, breached the Capitol grounds and "aggressively berated and taunted U.S. Capitol police officers" during the insurrection. Court papers from the FBI said Minuta came "equipped with military-style attire and gear, including apparel emblazoned with a crest related to the Oath Keepers," a far-right antigovernment militia.

The New York Times identified Minuta, a tattoo shop owner, as one of six people who provided security to Stone in the hours before the siege. Stone was in Washington that day but denied any involvement in the riot.

Also arrested over the weekend was Isaac Steve Sturgeon, 32, of Dillon, Montana, who is charged with shoving a metal police barricade into police officers during the insurrection, according to court records.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones and Robert Brodsky. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The Manhattan District Attorney's Office subpoenaed documents from an investment company that lent the Trump Organization millions of dollars for its Chicago skyscraper, a sign that the investigation into the former president's finances continues to expand, CNN reported. Prosecutors are examining whether Trump's business misled lenders or insurance brokers about valuations of certain properties.
  • Trump was in New York City for his first time as ex-president on Monday. The purpose of his visit wasn't disclosed. The Daily News said it was told by a source that Trump wanted "to look under the hood" of his businesses.
  • Asked at her daily briefing about the bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Psaki praised Markle's "courage" for speaking out on her mental health struggles. Otherwise, Psaki said, the White House would steer clear of commenting on their private lives. She also sidestepped whether the Bidens actually watched the interview.
  • The Biden administration moved closer Monday toward approving the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm about 12 nautical miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, The Washington Post reported. The Kennedy family fought such plans for years, but the current project's proposed location has been moved several miles, out of sight from the family’s Hyannis waterfront compound.
  • The Supreme Court terminated the last of Trump's election on Monday, rejecting without comment his appeal of lower court rulings that upheld Wisconsin's handling of mail-in ballots.
  • The Biden administration said Monday that it is offering Temporary Protected Status — which includes deportation relief and work permits — to hundreds thousands of Venezuelans living in the U.S. because of continuing and political and economic turmoil in the once-prosperous South American country.

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