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Biden gets a Republican overture on COVID bill

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is one of

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is one of 10 Republican senators trying to sell President Joe Biden on a smaller coronavirus relief package. Credit: Pool via Getty Images / Melina Mara

Anyone buying bipartisan?

A group of 10 Republican senators — some moderate, some not — are asking for a meeting with President Joe Biden to hear out their idea for a coronavirus relief package, a stripped-down $600 billion alternative to the his $1.9 trillion plan, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

The group, led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said it's heeding the new president’s "calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your administration." A question for Biden is what value to assign to bipartisanship when he likely could go bigger if he goes the Democrats-only route. If 10 Republicans joined them, their combined 60 votes would be filibuster-proof. Biden invited the GOP senators to meet with him Monday afternoon.

White House economic adviser Brian Deese, when asked about the GOP proposal during Sunday talk show appearances, said the administration is "certainly open to input from anywhere where we can find a constructive idea to make this package as effective as possible. But the president is uncompromising when it comes to the speed that we need to act at to address this crisis." Deese added: "One thing we've learned over the past 11 months is a piecemeal approach — where we try to tackle one element of this and wait and see on the rest — is not a recipe for success."

The Senate's new majority leader, Chuck Schumer, took a hard line against going smaller. "They should negotiate with us, not make a take-it-or-leave-it offer," Schumer said in an interview with the Daily News. "If the reports are true, it doesn’t have any state and local money in it."

Congressional Democrats — who currently hold a majority in both the House and Senate — are set to kick off a process on Monday known as budget reconciliation that would essentially allow Biden to pass his relief proposal through both chambers without Republican support.

The proposal by the 10 Republicans has some elements similar to those in Biden's plan, including allocating $160 billion for COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution, testing and tracing, and personal protective equipment. It also would reduce the size of a new round of stimulus checks Biden wants to send to Americans, from $1,400 per individual to $1,000, and lower the income maximums that determine eligibility. For a couple, the GOP cutoff would be $100,000 in annual income, compared with $150,000 under Biden's plan.

Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, one of the Republicans who signed the letter to Biden, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the direct checks should be "targeted" to those in most desperate need.

Trump's defensive substitutions

Former President Donald Trump's five-member legal team for his impeachment trial next week, led by South Carolina lawyer Butch Bowers, is off the case. Bowers was hired less than two weeks ago, and sources told CNN, The New York Times and others it was a "mutual" decision with Trump to part ways on Saturday.

In their place, Trump announced via news release on Sunday, David Schoen, a criminal defense lawyer with offices in Alabama and New York, and Bruce Castor, a former county prosecutor in Pennsylvania, will lead his defense against a charge of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Castor is as well-known for a case that he did not bring as he is for any of the prosecutions that he brought, The Associated Press reported. He declined to charge actor/comedian Bill Cosby after a woman went to police in suburban Philadelphia in 2005 and alleged that Cosby had drugged and molested her a year earlier. A new prosecutor took that case, arrested Cosby in 2015 and won a conviction.

Schoen previously represented Trump confidant Roger Stone and was most recently in the headlines for meeting with pedophile sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein before his death in prison, The Daily Beast writes. Schoen said Epstein wanted him to lead his defense team and that he believes Epstein was murdered, contrary to the official finding of suicide.

Part of the reason Trump has struggled to assemble a legal team for the second impeachment is that prominent lawyers seem unwilling to associate themselves with the false claims he wants to continue to press — that he won the election, The Washington Post reported. The Bowers-led team wanted to focus their arguments on disputing the constitutionality of impeaching a former president, and on contending that Trump's actions before the siege didn't add up to incitement.

A source told The New York Times that Trump and Bowers were unable to develop a personal chemistry, and that Trump prefers lawyers who are eager to appear on television to say that he never did anything wrong — a Rudy Giuliani type. But Giuliani is a potential witness because he gave an incendiary speech to Trump supporters at a rally before the riot. Schoen has appeared on Fox News.

Janison: As GM goes ...

Whether or not General Motors meets its new goal of producing only electric-powered cars and trucks by 2035, Biden can leverage the announcement in the short term into a public-relations boost for his climate-change policies, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

"Efforts like this will help grow our economy and create good-paying union jobs," the White House said in a statement on Thursday. These words are clearly meant to diffuse concerns about the losses of traditional industry jobs such a big technological changeover will likely mean.

Mary Barra, GM's chair and chief executive, has a unique role here. When she met in 2017 with then-President Trump, she encouraged and supported his rollback of pollution-reduction timetables that had been set under predecessor Barack Obama.

After Biden's election, Barra quickly fell into alignment with the Democrat's goals. "President-elect Biden recently said, ‘I believe that we can own the 21st century car market again by moving to electric vehicles.’ We at General Motors couldn’t agree more," she wrote in a letter to environmental leaders.

The Silver clemency that wasn't, unpacked

When Trump planned his last round of pardons and commutations, the clemency plan for imprisoned former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had advanced far beyond just a news media leak.

Newsday's Michael Gormley reports that on Jan. 19 — the day before Trump left office — the White House contacted Silver’s wife of more than 40 years, Rosa, at the couple's Lower East Side apartment, according to former Democratic Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg of Long Beach and a current Assembly member who asked not to be identified. Rosa Silver was told to prepare to pick up her husband at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in Orange County as soon as the next day, Weisenberg and the Assembly member said.

By next morning, Silver’s clemency bid was scuttled after the initial reports set off furious protests among New York Republicans with reach into the Trump White House. Silver, the 76-year-old Democrat and former power broker now fighting prostate cancer, has more than 3 years of his sentence left on convictions of accepting bribes and money laundering.

April is back-to-school target

The nation's schools could all reopen for live instruction by April, the Biden administration signaled Sunday, despite concern about a potential surge of cases stemming from dangerous mutations of the coronavirus, reports Newsday's Scott Eidler.

Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to Biden, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that "if we invest in the resources to make it safe, schools should reopen." That was part of Richmond's pitch for passage of Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package.

Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told 6,000 teachers on a video call: "We are not going to get back to normal until we get the children back in school, for the good of the children, the good of the parents and the good of the community."

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo and Michael O'Keeffe. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Biden plans to deliver later this week his most substantive foreign policy remarks since becoming president, signaling his pivot from his predecessor's "America First" alliance-spurning approach to world affairs, CNN reports.
  • Senate Democrats on Sunday called for stronger stock-market regulations as well as Senate investigations into Robinhood, an online brokerage app popular with young and amateur investors, after the company acted to halt trades on GameStop stocks amid frenzied trading. "The markets only work when … the average investor has a fair chance and actions in recent days call that into question," Schumer said. See Newsday's story by Eidler and Rachelle Blidner.
  • Queen Elizabeth II will host Biden and other world leaders at Buckingham Palace in June before a summit of the G-7 big economies in Cornwall, southwest England, the U.K.'s Sunday Times reported.
  • Trump and the Republican Party raised $255.4 million in the eight-plus weeks following the Nov. 3 election as he sought to undermine and overturn the results with unfounded accusations of fraud, The New York Times reported, based on new federal filings.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence, mapping a political future apart from Trump, plans to form a policy-focused fundraising committee that would help him maintain a relationship with donors, according to NBC News.

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