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Biden's COVID outlook brightens in four-seasons forecast

President Joe Biden puts on a face mask

President Joe Biden puts on a face mask at a Monday event to sign executive orders for the Buy American program. Credit: UPI / Bloomberg / Kevin Dietsch

Goalposts moved

Donald Trump's long year of over-the-top overpromising about ending the coronavirus pandemic was the sickest joke of his presidency. Less than a week in office, just days after warning "things are going to continue to get worse before they get better," President Joe Biden on Monday stuck his neck out with more optimism about when "better" may arrive, with a hope of nearing "herd immunity" in the summer.

Was Biden's goal of 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in 100 days too cautious and under-ambitious? Fielding questions from reporters, Biden said he now thinks the country can do 50% better in the coming weeks than he initially forecast, and give 150 million vaccinations in his first 100 days. "I think with the grace of God, the goodwill of the neighbor and the creek not rising, as the old saying goes, I think we may be able to get that to 1.5 million a day, rather than 1 million a day," he said.

Despite current supply shortages that have brought vaccination programs in New York and elsewhere to a virtual halt, Biden also said that by this spring, he expects anyone who wants a vaccine to be able to get one. It wasn't clear whether that means late March, mid-June or sometime in between.

"It is going to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we've ever tried in this country, but I think we can do that," Biden said. To help make it happen, he is asking Congress for more than $400 billion to build up vaccination programs, as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus package he is seeking. Biden said that by summer, "we're going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity."

Even so, he warned the nation was going to be "in this for a while," and could see between "600,000 and 660,000 deaths before we begin to turn the corner in a major way." The current toll stands above 420,000.

"We will beat this, but we're still going to be talking about this in the summer. We're still going to be dealing with this issue in the early fall," Biden added. He also took the opportunity to remind Americans to wear face masks, which health officials say would help slow the spread of the mutating coronavirus.

As of Sunday, the federal government had distributed 41.4 million vaccine doses to states and other jurisdictions. Of that, 21.8 million doses had been administered, or about 53%. About 3.2 million people had received their full two-dose vaccination, a little less than 1% of the population, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hurry up or wait? Both.

Even as Biden stresses the urgency of getting the COVID-19 relief and stimulus package in place, he says it will take a few weeks for Democrats in Congress to decide whether they should forge ahead with an aid bill without GOP support.

"I don’t expect we know we’ll have an agreement … until we get right to the very end of this process, which will probably happen in a couple of weeks," he told reporters.

"Time is of the essence," the president said. "I prefer these things to be bipartisan," he also said. He dismissed the possibility of embracing a scaled-down bill to secure passage faster.

In addition to the new round of stimulus checks to individuals — Biden wants $1,400 this time — his proposal includes an increase and extension of emergency unemployment benefits set to expire in mid-March, an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments and schools.

If there is no deal that attracts Republicans, Democrats are making plans to use a budgetary tool known as "reconciliation," which would allow the package to pass with a simple majority vote in the Senate, instead of the 60 votes normally required for major legislation.

Biden: Trump trial 'has to happen'

As the House formally brought its article of impeachment against Trump to the Senate, setting the stage for trial, Biden said, "I think it has to happen."

In a brief West Wing hallway interview Monday night with CNN, Biden acknowledged the potential delays for his legislative agenda and Cabinet nominees due to the Trump trial, but he said there would be "a worse effect if it didn't happen." Biden also predicted that the Democratic House impeachment mangers wouldn't find the 17 Republican senators needed to convict Trump for inciting the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, partly because Trump has since been out of office. The outcome might be different, Biden said, if Trump had had six months left on his term.

Trial arguments will begin the week of Feb. 8, and Democrats still haven't decided among themselves whether they want to hear any witnesses, which would lengthen the proceedings, nor have Republicans set out how they want it to play out.

One key difference from Trump's first impeachment trial a year ago is that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will not be part of it. The Constitution states that the Supreme Court’s chief justice must preside over a presidential impeachment trial, but because Trump is no longer in office, Roberts is off the hook.

Instead, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as the longest-serving member of the majority party, is expected to preside over the second Trump trial. Leahy still gets a vote on the verdict too, which Republicans criticized. "I like Sen. Leahy, but it’s a conflict of interest," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). "He’s a juror. He shouldn’t be sitting as a judge."

Janison: Biden's socialisn't

Even with Biden's policies still unfolding, right-wing alarms and left-wing hopes about a radical shift in national economic philosophy appear on track to proving overblown, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Biden has called for tax cuts for the poor and middle-income earners while proposing to roll back the giant tax cuts for corporations enacted three years ago. On Monday, the president signed an executive order meant to boost government purchases of U.S.-made products.

Tariff talk from the Biden administration thus far sounds no less nationalistic than Trump's "Buy American" effort, with changes in details but no drastic transformation, The Wall Street Journal reports. In his inaugural speech last week, Biden inveighed against racism but sounded no trumpets on wealth inequality in the U.S.

As a senator from Delaware, Biden was viewed as far from anti-corporate, especially when it came to the DuPont chemical corporation, based in his home state.

In September, Trump declared at a campaign rally: "Socialism is the mainstream of the Biden campaign." "I beat the socialist," Biden replied then, referring to his last opponent in the primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders. "That’s how I got elected."

Giuliani sued for $1.3B by Dominion

Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit on Monday against Trump’s personal and election lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who led the former president’s efforts to spread baseless claims about the 2020 election, including evidence-free allegations that Dominion's systems were easily manipulated.

In a rally before Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, Giuliani spoke of "crooked Dominion machines" that were used to "steal" the election.

The company faced such a mountain of threats that one of its top executives went into hiding. "Giuliani’s statements were calculated to — and did in fact — provoke outrage and cause Dominion enormous harm," the suit says. Dominion also has sued conspiracy-spouting lawyer Sidney Powell.

Giuliani denounced the lawsuit as "another act of intimidation by the hate-filled left-wing to wipe out and censor the exercise of free speech." Asked whether Dominion plans to sue Trump, Clare said the company has not ruled anybody out.

Harriet Tubman's bill coming due?

The Biden administration is "exploring ways to speed up" plans for to put 19th century abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

During the final year of President Barack Obama's administration, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced that Tubman's portrait would be on a redesigned $20 note, to be unveiled in 2020. But the plan was slow-walked under Trump, who regarded as one his favorite presidents the current face of the bill, Andrew Jackson, who owned slaves and pursued brutal policies against Native Americans. Trump disparaged the proposed change as "pure political correctness" and suggested that Tubman be put on the little-used $2 bill instead.

"It's important that our notes, our money — if people don't know what a note is — reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman's image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that," Psaki said at her daily briefing.

Tubman escaped slavery and helped lead more than 300 others to freedom in the years leading up to the Civil War. She supported the Union Army as a scout and spy.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments 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 Bidens' German shepherds, Major and Champ, moved into the White House on Sunday and have quickly become part of the soundtrack as well as the scene. They can be heard barking in the background as the president wound up an Oval Office meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and military brass.
  • The Justice Department inspector general announced Monday the start of an investigation into whether any former or current officials engaged in an "improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome of the 2020 presidential election." The move followed reports of Trump plotting with an obscure Justice Department lawyer to oust then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and get the department to intervene on Trump's behalf.
  • As promised, Biden signed an order Monday reversing a Trump-era Pentagon policy that largely barred transgender individuals from serving in the military. "What I’m doing is enabling all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform," Biden said. The order reads in part: "America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception."
  • An ABC News/Ipsos poll found Biden's approval ratings high for his response to the coronavirus (69%) and confidence in his ability to unify the country (57%). New presidents usually enjoy high ratings. Trump four years ago was an exception.
  • Some former Trump aides who hung in until the end say they are facing an increasingly bleak job market with virtually no chance in corporate America, Politico reported. Some said promising leads disappeared after the Capitol riot.
  • The Senate on Monday voted 84-15 to confirm Janet Yellen as treasury secretary, making her the first woman to head the key Cabinet agency. She received support from most Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  • Trump's second of four press secretaries, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, announced her candidacy for governor of Arkansas with a Trumpian pitch. "Everything we love about America is at stake, and with the radical left now in control of Washington, your governor is your last line of defense," she said.
  • Biden has replaced the controversial White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, who gave out misleading information about Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis last fall, CNN reported. Taking his place is Dr. Kevin O'Connor, a retired Army colonel who served as Biden's physician when he was vice president.

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