The bold and the doable
By some measures, President Joe Biden's goal of 100 million coronavirus vaccinations in his first 100 days seems more chip shot than moonshot. The required pace — 1 million doses a day — was reached on some days during former President Donald Trump's final week in office, according to The Washington Post.
Biden administration officials on the Sunday talk shows disputed criticism that they were lowballing and trying to set easy-to-meet expectations, reports Newsday's Scott Eidler. The bench mark "is still a very bold and ambitious goal," White House chief of staff Ron Klain said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "This country has never given 100 million shots in 100 days, so if we can do that, I think it would be quite an accomplishment."
But do better, maybe? "Obviously, we're not going to stop there," Klain said. " … that is our first goal, it's not our final goal. It's not the endpoint, it's just a metric that the American people can watch and measure how we're doing." (See Biden's national COVID-19 strategy report.)
Xavier Becerra, nominee for health and human services secretary, said Sunday on CNN that the United States would "need to do even more." Citing what he described as the Trump administration's faulty COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Becerra compared the task ahead to pulling a plane out of a nosedive.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, now Biden's top medical adviser, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the 100-million figure refers to doses, not people. Some people will be getting their second doses during that period. Fauci called the 100-million dose goal "a floor, not a ceiling." He said that looking at past days when a million were vaccinated can be misleading because much of them occurred "in areas that are relatively easy from the standpoint of getting it done, in a nursing home or in a situation in a hospital setting."
The newly appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, warned on "Fox News Sunday" that the federal government remains in the dark about vaccine inventory and states like New York won't be able to quickly replenish stocks. "One of the biggest problems right now is 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," she said.
Walensky said that once the pace of building up supply accelerates, so will vaccinations. "We're really hoping that after that first 100 days, we'll have much more production," she said.
Schumer skates on thin-majority ice
New York's Chuck Schumer became Senate majority leader on Wednesday, reaching the pinnacle of his political career, and immediately has faced test after test of his skills as a leader, a strategist and a negotiator, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.
He’s been locked in talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over how the two parties, each with 50 senators, will share power and whether to protect the legislative filibuster. Schumer has just begun winning approval for Biden’s Cabinet nominees while an impeachment trial lies ahead.
And in the next two years before he is up for reelection, Schumer will be confronted by more challenges, notably his need to advance Biden’s ambitious agenda, which includes a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package, a massive infrastructure bill and immigration overhaul.
Schumer as minority leader largely kept his caucus unified on key votes, despite its spread from center to left, and he said in an interview he believes he will be able to do that now, even though it will be harder because he can’t afford to lose one vote.
"We have a leadership team that meets every Monday night with our two most liberal members, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and our two most conservative members, Joe Manchin and Mark Warner, and then people in between," he said. "We discuss things and realize that coming together in a unified position is the best way we can help people."
Try Trump, chew gum at same time
Top Democrats said Sunday that the impeachment trial of Trump remains a priority even as the country confronts crises on several fronts, report Newsday's Rachelle Blidner and Jesse Coburn.
Schumer said at a Manhattan news conference Sunday that Congress must quickly move on the coronavirus bill, Biden's nominees and the Trump trial because "the stakes are too high to delay any of them."
Some senators, including Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), proposed confirming nominees in the morning and passing legislation at night to keep up with the nation's needs.
The Associated Press reported that a growing number of Republican senators say they oppose holding an impeachment trial, a sign of the dimming chances that Trump will be convicted on the charge of inciting insurrection in the siege of the U.S. Capitol.
Janison: Means to what end?
Trump has figuratively slipped the cuffs twice before his pending impeachment trial, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. he first time, the Mueller report on Russian election meddling gave Congress a clear path to an obstruction charge that House Democrats did not pursue. Last year, Trump was impeached in the Ukraine scandal and acquitted in the Senate with only one Republican member, Mitt Romney, voting to convict.
If impeachment were more like an ordinary criminal prosecution, you'd expect the prospect of a plea bargain to get an airing in the latest case. Clearly, Trump urged a militant crowd of supporters on Jan. 6 to "fight like hell" and march on the Capitol, where some committed violent and lethal acts. The charge that he incited an insurrection sounds way more plausible, or at least much less ridiculous, than his treacherous claims of "massive" vote fraud.
But Trump can no longer can be removed from office — and removal is ordinarily the point of an impeachment. So what's the point? For one, it would force Republicans who serve in a body that came under attack to record their stances. Another is that by convicting Trump, the Senate can then vote separately to disqualify him from holding federal office in the future, a restraint some in the GOP might find attractive.
Still, impeachment is a legislative process, not a criminal procedure requiring unbiased jurors — as Trump's last trial proved one year ago.
Another Trump election plot revealed
In his final weeks in office, Trump schemed to replace then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with another Justice Department lawyer who would do what neither Rosen nor former Attorney General William Barr found legally justified — press lawsuits with baseless allegations of voter fraud to overturn the election.
Trump backed down when Rosen and other senior Justice officials threatened to resign en masse, according to reports by The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Legal analysts said the gambit amounted to a disastrous attack on the Justice Department’s independence, and perhaps something worse, the Post said.
Trump was introduced to Jeffrey Clark, the lawyer he wanted to take over DOJ, by a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, Rep. Scott Perry, who was among scores of people feeding the former president false information about the election, according to the Times. Clark had tried to get Rosen to write to Georgia legislators by saying falsely that the Justice Department was investigating voter fraud allegations in the state and urging them to void Biden's certified win there.
Trump’s decision not to go through with the DOJ lawsuits came only after Rosen and Clark made their competing cases to him in a bizarre White House meeting that two officials compared with an episode of "The Apprentice."
COVID docs' post-Trump stress syndrome
In separate interviews seen Sunday, Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx vented on their experiences trying to tackle the pandemic in the Trump White House.
Recalling Trump's obsessions with quack cures, Fauci told The New York Times: "It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, 'A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.' That’s when my anxiety started to escalate."
When the pandemic exploded in the New York area last spring, Fauci said, "I would try to express the gravity of the situation, and the response of the president was always leaning toward, 'Well, it’s not that bad, right?' And I would say, 'Yes, it is that bad.' It was almost a reflex response, trying to coax you to minimize it."
It was Birx's job as White House coronavirus response coordinator under Trump to make sense of disease data, but instead she "saw the president presenting graphs that I never made," she told CBS' "Face the Nation." The skewed presentations came from "someone inside" who "was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president," Birx said.
Birx revealed that she had no full-time team in the White House. She praised Biden for building a team of experts in testing, vaccines, data and data use, as well as a full-time point person on supply chain.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Biden, his son Hunter and two grandchildren attended Sunday Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown. On the way back to the White House, the motorcade stopped at the Call Your Mother bagel shop and deli, and Hunter went in to pick up a takeout order. The store is co-owned by Joe Biden's coronavirus response coordinator, Jeff Zients.
- Federal law enforcement officials are privately debating whether they should decline to charge some of the individuals who stormed the Capitol — cutting loose those who committed unlawful entry but not violent, destructive or threatening behavior, The Washington Post reported. One of the concerns is swamping local federal courts.
- An Associated Press survey of law enforcement agencies nationwide found that at least 31 officers in 12 states either face criminal charges for participating in the Capitol riot or are being scrutinized by their supervisors for their behavior in Washington that day.
- Federal law enforcement officials told lawmakers last week that as many as 5,000 National Guard troops need to remain in Washington through mid-March because of security concerns ahead of Trump's impeachment trial, Politico reported.
- The Biden administration is expected as soon as Monday to repeal the ban Trump pushed through in 2019 on transgender Americans serving in the military, CBS News reported.
- Republican legislators across the country are preparing a slew of new state voting restrictions in the wake of Trump’s defeat, with some saying it's the only way they can win, Politico reported. "They’ve got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning," said Alice O’Lenick, a suburban Atlanta elections official.