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There is … no credible route to a Zero Covid Britain or indeed a Zero Covid World and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a four-step roadmap to take England out of its Covid-19 lockdown. The country has been in full national lockdown since January 4, after a new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus was discovered in southeast England.

All being well, Johnson’s government is hopeful that most of the economy will be able to open before the end of June. As he announced the plan on Monday, the Prime Minister stressed that the four steps would be decided by “data not dates,” and emphasized that they would be subject to change. Downing Street officials were keen to explain that this caution was in order to avoid future restrictions that would further damage the economy.

“There is … no credible route to a Zero Covid Britain or indeed a Zero Covid World and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental well-being, and the life chances of our children,” Johnson said. “This roadmap should be cautious but also irreversible.”

Johnson told lawmakers that step one would begin on March 8, as schools finally reopen across England, as well as the return of limited outdoor social interaction, such as sitting on a park bench with one other person. Step one will also have a second phase on March 29, where further restrictions will be lifted, allowing groups of six to meet outside and two households to mix.

Boris Johnson’s government is ‘gaslighting’ Britain about the realities of Brexit, critics say
Boris Johnson’s government is ‘gaslighting’ Britain about the realities of Brexit, critics say

The lifting of measures will take place with a minimum five-week gap, the Prime Minister said, allowing four weeks for the government to gather the appropriate data and one week to alert the public and sectors involved.

The speed at which England will exit lockdown will be set against four key tests: how the vaccine rollout is going; how vaccines are affecting hospitalizations and deaths; that infection rates are staying low; and that new variants not undermining the other three criteria.

Step two, which would happen no earlier than April 12, will see the return of non-essential retail, such as hairdressers, gyms, museums, zoos and theme parks. Social contact rules will remain in place for indoor activities, meaning that they can only be attended by the members of own household.

Crucially, the hospitality sector will also be allowed to reopen at this point. Pubs and restaurants will only be allowed to serve groups of six or two households outside, however. Downing Street said that there would be no curfews or restrictions on what customers would be able to order after heavy criticism last summer.

Aurora police officers did not have a legal basis to force Elijah McClain to stop walking, to frisk him or to use a chokehold on him, an independent investigation commissioned by the city found.

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The initial investigation into the incident led by the department’s detectives in the Major Crimes Unit was also deeply flawed, the investigators found. The detectives failed to ask basic, critical questions of the officers involved in McClain’s death and instead “the questions frequently appeared designed to elicit specific exonerating ‘magic language’ found in court rulings,” the report states.

The report from the detectives was relied upon by the department’s force review board as well as the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, both of which cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

“In addition, the report of the Major Crime Unit stretched the record to exonerate the officers rather than present a neutral version of the facts,” the investigators wrote.

“It is hard to imagine any other persons involved in a fatal incident being interviewed as these officers were,” the investigators continued.

Aurora city officials on Monday morning released the 157-page report on the death of McClain at the hands of city police and paramedics. The city hired a panel of investigators to examine the officers’ and paramedics’ decision and make policy recommendations “to lessen the chance of another tragedy like this one from happening again,” the report states.

Recommendations from the panel include overhauling the police department’s accountability system and review policy, training and practice regarding arrest standards and use of force.

“The body worn camera audio, limited video, and Major Crime’s interviews with the officers tell two contrasting stories,” the report states. “The officers’ statements on the scene and in subsequent recorded interviews suggest a violent and relentless struggle. The limited video, and the audio from the body worn cameras, reveal Mr. McClain surrounded by officers, all larger than he, crying out in pain, apologizing, explaining himself, and pleading with the officers.”

The investigators also found that Aurora paramedics failed to properly examine McClain before injecting him with 500 milligrams of the sedative ketamine — a dose based on a “grossly inaccurate” estimation of McClain’s weight. Paramedics estimated he weighed 190 pounds but he actually weighed closer to 140 pounds.

“Aurora Fire appears to have accepted the officers’ impression that Mr. McClain had excited delirium without corroborating that impression through meaningful observation or diagnostic examination of Mr. McClain,” the investigators wrote.

The external consultants hired to conduct the investigation delivered their findings to Aurora’s city government on Monday morning — the first findings made public from several ongoing investigations into the incident that are taking place at every level of government.

Aurora government leaders commissioned the investigation on July 20 as McClain’s 2019 death drew international attention. Widespread protests of police brutality against Black people exploded in the summer of 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and dozens of protests and vigils have been held in McClain’s name.

The investigation included a review of the city’s relevant policies, procedures and practices, including how police and fire personnel interact with people, their use of force, their use of the sedative ketamine and how the city reviews incidents. The investigators’ request to interview the officers and paramedics involved was declined, however.

The investigation was led by Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Smith previously led the section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division that conducted the investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri, police department following the death of Michael Brown.

The Aurora City Council is scheduled to discuss the report’s findings at a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday. The public can watch the meeting at AuroraTV.org or on Comcast Channels 8/880 in Aurora.

The results of the city-initiated investigation are the first to be made public out of several ongoing investigations into McClain’s death. The Colorado Attorney General’s Office has asked a grand jury to look at the case and see if any criminal charges are warranted and the U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating whether officers violated McClain’s civil rights.

McClain’s family also has filed a federal lawsuit against Aurora.

Three Aurora police officers detained McClain on Aug. 24, 2019, after receiving a 911 call about a suspicious person. When McClain refused to stop walking, the officers took him to the ground, choked him and handcuffed him before a paramedic injected McClain with ketamine, a powerful sedative.

McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, where he was later declared brain dead. He was taken off life support on Aug. 30, 2019. McClain wasn’t suspected of a crime.

The Adams County coroner ruled the cause of McClain’s death to be undetermined and the district attorney for the 17th Judicial District found the three police officers who violently detained him were not criminally liable. A review of the incident by the police department found the three officers did not violate any policies and they were not disciplined. Both the police chief and the district attorney who made those decisions have since left their positions.
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One of the officers involved in McClain’s death, Jason Rosenblatt, was later fired by the department’s next chief for replying “haha” to a texted photo showing other Aurora police officers re-enacting one of the chokeholds used on McClain at his memorial site.

The other two officers remained employed by the department, though in jobs that are not public-facing. Officer Randy Roedema is assigned to the forensic services unit and Officer Nathan Woodyard is assigned to the electronic support section, a department spokesman said.

Smith is the second person commissioned by the city to investigate McClain’s death. City Manager Jim Twombly first hired a former police officer turned lawyer to complete the review, but the city canceled the contract after city councilmembers raised concerns that the lawyer’s investigation would be biased by his past law enforcement experience.

A misdemeanor charge has been dropped against a Black man who was arrested last week for walking home on a street during a snowstorm in Texas.

Rodney Reese, 18, was arrested Feb. 16 in Plano and charged with being a pedestrian in the roadway, news outlets reported.

Police said officers received a call about a Black man seen stumbling along in the middle of the snowy street wearing a short-sleeved shirt and were sent to perform a wellness check.

Police released body camera footage of the encounter on Facebook on Friday. In the video, police are seen following Reese and repeatedly asking him where he is going and if he was OK, to which he replies that he is fine and he is on his way home.

Reese told KDFW-TV that he was walking home from his job at a Walmart and didn’t stop for the officers because he didn’t need their help.

Officers continued to follow Reese for about two minutes before stopping him, telling him they were “doing an investigation” and informing him that he was being detained.

Reese replied “no” and continued walking, but was stopped again. In the video, a brief scuffle is seen as officers attempted to handcuff Reese, who can be heard asking to be released.

According to the Facebook post, the arresting officer noted that Reese resisted arrest but chose not to charge him.

Plano Police Chief Ed Drain told KDFW-TV that the charge was dropped against Reese because the arrest wasn’t consistent with why officers were called to investigate.

“They should’ve taken him home, is where he should’ve gone,” Drain said.

Drain backed his officers, stating that at the time of the arrest they didn’t know Reese’s age, where he worked or where he lived.

Drain also said he doesn’t believe race was a factor in the arrest, but added that he “can’t get inside people’s heads.”

Reese said, however, that he believes the call that brought officers to the scene and his subsequent arrest were based on the color of his skin.

Step three, which will be in place no sooner than May 17, will remove most social distancing rules. Groups of up to 30 will be able to meet outdoors in a public space or private garden. Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve indoors, though the rule of six will apply. Indoor entertainment will also be allowed to resume, with venues allowed to host up to 1,000 people. Spectators will be allowed to return to live outdoor sports, with up to 10,000 allowed to attend the largest venues, such as Wembley Stadium.

UK study finds one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduces risk of infection by 72%
UK study finds one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduces risk of infection by 72%

Finally, step four, which will happen no sooner than June 12, will see the removal of most social restrictions and the return of nightclubs. Personal life events like weddings will have no limitations if things go well. In the weeks and months leading up to step four, the government will carry out reviews on large outdoor events, such as music festivals.

The government will look at controversial measures such as Covid certification for people who test negative or have been vaccinated. International travel will not return until at least May 17 and travel between the UK’s four nations will be discussed between the devolved governments.
The measures, while welcomed by most, will be deemed slow and in some cases controversial, so Johnson is likely to meet resistance from his own Conservative lawmakers when they come before a vote in Parliament.

The news comes as the UK’s vaccine rollout continues to lead the rest of Europe, while scientific research indicates that vaccinations lower the risk of hospitalization up to 94%.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and Public health Scotland examined data from people who had received the first dose of the either the Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine.

The data showed that four weeks after having the shot, the risk of being admitted to hospitals had been reduced by up to 85% and 94% respectively, according to UK news agency PA Media. As of Monday morning, the UK has given first doses to 17.5 million people, while the speed at which it can vaccinate is increasing.

Also on Monday, Public Health England published the results of its Siren Study, which showed that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “provides high levels of protection against infection and symptomatic disease.”
The research, which was carried out on healthcare workers aged under the age of 65, found that one dose of the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 72% after three weeks, while two vaccine doses reduced the risk of infection by 85%.

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Sal Russo, a former Reagan aide and Tea Party Express co-founder, said that “sometimes you’ve got to give some deference to where your base wants to go

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Ronald Reagan, the president who reinvigorated the Republican Party, promoted the GOP as the “party of new ideas” on his way to a landslide reelection in 1984.

In the post-Donald Trump era, judging by the fare inside the Orlando ballroom where the Conservative Political Action Conference unfolded, the GOP has evolved into the party of precisely two ideas: re-litigating Trump’s defeat and seething over the de-platforming of the former president and his supporters.

At the first major gathering of Republicans since Trump left office, conservatives spent the weekend clinging to the false claim that Trump’s presidency was stolen from him and raging over the perceived “cancel culture” of Big Tech and the left.

Nearly four months after the election and one month into Joe Biden’s presidency, the politics of grievance has become the near-singular organizing principle of the post-Trump GOP. And whether at CPAC or in statehouses across the country, policy prescriptions for restoring so-called voter integrity have emerged as the primary focus of the party’s energy.

“There are two things the conservative grassroots care about more than anything else,” Charlie Kirk, a conservative activist and founder of the youth movement Turning Point USA, said at CPAC. “No. 1, restoring election integrity in our country for fair and free elections. And No. 2, it is challenging Big Tech, it is giving us the ability to speak freely on social media.”

Much of the intellectual and legislative thrust of the Republican Party nationally remains grounded in the election and its aftermath — a preoccupation sparked by the former president’s unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him through voting fraud and other means.

“It is a party that has been fashioned in the mold of Trump — Trump’s message, Trump’s tactics — and it is perfectly comfortable being a party that is defined by what it’s against.”

Kevin Madden, a former Mitt Romney adviser.

In Georgia, where Democrats not only beat Trump in November but flipped the U.S. Senate in the runoff elections, the Republican-controlled state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill requiring an ID when requesting an absentee ballot. The following day, it was a bonanza across the country. The Iowa House passed a bill designed to limit early voting. In Missouri, the Republican-controlled House passed legislation that would require a photo ID at the polls, while a legislative committee in Wyoming moved forward with a similar bill.

The Brennan Center for Justice is tracking more than 250 bills to restrict voting by lawmakers in 43 states.

Benjamin Ginsberg, an elections lawyer who has represented past Republican presidential nominees, lamented the death of the “ideas factory” in the GOP.

“Tell me what the innovative Republican policies have been of late?” he said. The focus on re-litigating the last election is “probably a sign that the Republican Party is mired in a bit of a policy wasteland and doesn’t know which way to turn to get out.”

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Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, said “all Americans should be concerned about election integrity.” But with no evidence of widespread fraud beyond normal irregularities, he said, the focus by some in the GOP on the last election is a “big distraction” from issues that are more pressing to the electorate.

“I think it’s a big distraction,” Gonzales said. “And I worry that it will continue to be a big distraction as long as a certain individual makes statements that it was stolen.”

There is nothing to suggest that Trump, who will speak at the convention on Sunday, is letting go — or that the party’s rank-and-file is prepared to pivot away from his claims that the election was stolen from him, despite more than 60 losses in election lawsuits challenging the presidential election.

It hasn’t always been this way in the Republican Party. Last year, CPAC’s theme was “America vs. socialism.” The year before that, there were no fewer than three panels focusing on the challenges posed by a rising China. This year, CPAC did not go off without an airing of the party’s greatest hits: trade, China, immigration and abortion. And there were shoutouts for Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. But the fallout from November was the main fixture — in the Republicans’ frustration at de-platforming and the seven-part exploration of “protecting elections.”

In part, the party’s lack of a more forward-looking posture is a function of its sudden dearth of power in Washington. The GOP is settling in as an opposition party — with conservatives constituting what Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas described at CPAC as “the Rebel Alliance.” But there is little room for innovative, policy-focused conservative thought in a party so in thrall to one leader — a leader obsessed with the notion that he lost in a rigged election.

The release of a U.S. intelligence report finding that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had approved the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is prompting calls for penalties against the man next in line to the Saudi throne.

The report, released Friday, found that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — whose involvement was widely suspected — had approved the operation to kill Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The day of the report’s release, the U.S. State department also issued a visa ban for 76 Saudis. But so far no direct penalties for Salman have been announced.

Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted on Friday that Biden should “ensure that repercussions for the brutal murder of Khashoggi go beyond those who carried it out, to the one who ordered it.”

“The Crown Prince has blood on his hands. The blood of an American resident and journalist. We must have accountability,” Schiff wrote. He also told CNN that Biden should “shun” the crown prince.

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Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, called the report an “appropriate first step” but said he hoped for “concrete measures” against Salman “for his role in this heinous crime.”

“The United States must send a clear signal to our allies and adversaries alike that fundamental values, including respect for basic human rights and human dignity, drive U.S. foreign policy,” Menendez said in statement.

Similarly, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said he was “encouraged to see the new administration taking steps” toward accountability for the death of Khashoggi, who was a Virginia resident.

On the Republican side, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul of Texas said the U.S. “must ensure everyone involved in this appalling crime is held accountable – including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose role in this murder has now been publicly affirmed.”

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The White House has said Biden plans to “recalibrate” the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. White House spokesperson Jen Psaki has also said Biden plans to conduct business with the kingdom “counterpart to counterpart” with the Saudi head of state, King Salman.

Though not officially the king, Mohammed bin Salman is considered Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and controls the kingdom’s intelligence and security services.

In an interview with Univision on Friday, Biden said he had spoken King Salman Thursday and made it clear that “the rules are changing.” Biden said changes to the relationship would be announced Monday.

“We’re going to hold them accountable for human rights abuses, and we’re going to make sure that they, in fact, you know, if they want to deal with us, they have to deal with it in a way that human rights abuses are dealt with. And we’re trying to do that across the world, but particularly here,” Biden told anchor Ilia Calderón.

But the absence of any concrete penalties for the crown prince so far has engendered rebukes from Khashoggi’s colleagues and friends in journalism.

An editorial from The Washington Post applauds several of Biden’s actions to reset the intensely cozy relationship Saudi Arabia enjoyed with Trump. The editorial goes on to suggest that under Biden, the U.S.-Saudi relationship may resemble what it did before Trump, “when the kingdom was treated as a prime U.S. ally in the Middle East.” The editorial cites continued weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and a recent call between Salman and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“Mr. Biden is nevertheless granting what amounts to a pass to a ruler who has sown instability around the Middle East in recent years while presiding over the most severe repression of dissent in modern Saudi history,” the Post editorial board writes.

The Post noted that under U.S. law, Salman should be banned from traveling to the U.S. and have his assets frozen.

The Society of Professional Journalists called the intelligence report “too little too late,” adding that “the crown prince should have already been held accountable.” The group said Biden should send the message “that the killing of a journalist is unacceptable anywhere on this planet.”

New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, a friend of Khashoggi, minced no words in his column, calling Salman a murderer and saying Biden appeared “ready to let the murderer walk.”

Ken Khachigian, a former aide to Richard Nixon and chief speechwriter for Reagan, said the Republican Party today doesn’t have “a singular voice like they had with Reagan, for example, or Bill Buckley, the movement conservatives who could get up on a stage and move everyone the way Jack Kemp did back in the day.”

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“There’s always hope,” Khachigian said, suggesting that “when you have nitwits like AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] on the other side, it’s not hard to come up with somebody.”

But the backward-looking focus on November and its fallout, he said, is “shooting blanks.”

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It may come at a cost. As the Republican Party prepares for the midterm elections and the next presidential primary, it’s doing so as a shell of itself, having lost the White House and both houses of Congress in the span of four years. The last time it carried the popular vote in a presidential election was 2004, and America’s shifting demographics are making it increasingly unlikely that it will do so in 2024 — regardless of attempts to raise barriers to voting.

“It is a party that has been fashioned in the mold of Trump — Trump’s message, Trump’s tactics — and it is perfectly comfortable being a party that is defined by what it’s against,” said Kevin Madden, a former Mitt Romney adviser.

The difficulty for the party, Madden said, is “you become almost toxic as a party brand to larger, growing parts of the electorate. … The limitation of a message and a platform that’s just about disagreeing with the opposition is that it doesn’t speak to the broader concerns or anxieties of a big part of the electorate.”

It’s possible that the party’s fixation on election fraud and on the perceived silencing of those who tried to overturn the outcome will fade. Trump’s effort to contest the election postponed the traditional, post-election period of mourning for the losing party. And because a majority of Republicans still approve of Trump and believe the election wasn’t free or fair, there is a political imperative for the party to mollify them.

Sal Russo, a former Reagan aide and Tea Party Express co-founder, said that “sometimes you’ve got to give some deference to where your base wants to go. … Do I think the Republicans have to get over the election process issues? Yes, because you don’t win on ‘we’re going to tighten up absentee ballot eligibility.’ It doesn’t turn out to vote.”

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“It sends direct aid to those who need it most, boosts vaccination efforts, provides lifelines for small businesses, helps kids get back to school safety, and much more.”

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A $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill, the first major legislation of President Joe Biden’s term, passed the U.S. House along party lines early Saturday morning.

The legislation includes stimulus checks of $1,400 for individuals making up to $75,000 and $2,800 for couples making up to $150,000, plus $1,400 for each dependent. Along with December’s $600 payments, that fulfilled the Democrats’ promise of providing $2,000 to most Americans still trying to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn.

Those payments would phase out for individuals earning from $75,000 to $100,000 and for couples earning from $150,000 to $200,000.

The bill passed almost entirely along party lines, 219-212. All but one Democrat voted yes and every Republican voted no. All 10 New Jersey House Democrats voted yes, and the state’s two Republicans voted no.

It now goes to the U.S. Senate, where it needs only 50 senators plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, under a parliamentary process known as reconciliation. Biden has promised to sign the bill.

“The American Rescue Plan would help millions of people who are struggling in every community in our nation as a result of the pandemic,” Rep. Albio Sires, D-8th Dist., a member of the House Budget Committee, said during debate on the bill.

“It sends direct aid to those who need it most, boosts vaccination efforts, provides lifelines for small businesses, helps kids get back to school safety, and much more.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th Dist., objected to the legislation in a floor speech, saying it did not prevent taxpayer financing of abortions.

“Unborn babies,” Smith said, “need the president of the U.S. and members of Congress to be their friend and advocate, not their adversary.”

Lawmakers of both parties came together last year to enact the $2 trillion CARES Act in March with $1,200 payments, $484 billion in April for small businesses and health care providers, and $900 billion in December with $600 checks.

But every House GOP member but one opposed a $3 trillion stimulus bill in May and all voted no on a $2 trillion proposal in September, both of which passed the chamber but weren’t considered by the then-Senate Republican majority.

Richard Grenell, a top ally of former President Donald Trump, strongly hinted at a run for California governor in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday morning.

In his CPAC address, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence railed on California and said he has “never seen a better case for a recall” than the bid to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.

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“And of course, if a public official is still failing to deliver on their promises, and if you can’t limit their term or recall them in time, there’s always one other option: you can run against them yourself,” Grenell said to close his speech.

POLITICO has previously reported that Grenell has been prepping for a run for governor in the deep blue state, which Trump lost by more than 29 percentage points in 2020. A GOP strategist who has discussed Grenell’s plans with him said he planned to announce a run after the recall effort reaches the signature threshold for the ballot.

Grenell told POLITICO that “it isn’t true” he had begun interviewing potential aides and was readying to announce a run if the effort to get the recall on the ballot succeeds, and was non-committal when asked about a potential run in a Newsmax interview.

“California used to be Reagan country. The shining example of business innovation and middle class success,” Grenell said. “But now when you think of California, you think of out of control wildfires, of rolling blackouts, of schools still closed, of shuttered businesses.”

Newsom has gone on the defensive as the bid to recall him has gained steam, holding campaign-esque events as critics lambast him for the state’s coronavirus restrictions. The Republican National Committee has put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the bid.

On Saturday, Grenell got the apparent backing of Mercedes Schlapp of the American Conservative Union Foundation, who was moderating the next panel discussion.

“How wonderful was Ric Grenell? I don’t know, I think he’d make a great governor of California,” said Schlapp, a former Trump aide and the wife of ACU chair Matt Schlapp.

This time, Republicans complained that the legislation would increase the federal deficit by $1.9 trillion just four years after they approved a tax law that grew the deficit by the same amount, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of both bills’ 10-year impact.

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Congress plans to pass a final bill by March 14, the day the current extended federal unemployment insurance benefits end. The legislation extends the benefits to late August and provides an extra $400 a week to claimants, up from the current $300.

The House bill includes $350 billion in long-sought federal aid to states and localities to help cover added expenses and decreased revenues due to the pandemic. According to an updated estimate from the House Oversight Committee, New Jersey and its municipalities would receive an estimated $10 billion, with $6.5 billion going to the state and $3.5 billion to local governments.

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“I rise in strong support of the bill and of the 1.4 million first responders, teachers, transit workers, sanitation workers and other public servants already laid off from state and local governments across this nation,” said Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. “We must act before more people lose their jobs and more lifesaving programs are cut.”

Republican refusal to provide such aid, a top Democratic priority, prevented passage of a stimulus bill before the 2020 elections.

While Texas would be the second-biggest recipient of federal assistance, one of its Republican representatives, Jodey Arrington, insisted the funding was a “windfall to states who were mismanaged and broke before COVID.”

There also would be $130 billion to help schools reopen, $25 billion to help restaurants, $1.5 billion for Amtrak, and $28 billion for public transportation systems such as NJ Transit, where ridership and revenue are down.

The bill would provide money to distribute and administer the vaccines, to convince people to be vaccinated to test and trace Americans for the virus, and to increase health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

Donald Trump’s presidency is over and his Twitter feed silenced, but at the first major conservative gathering of the year, the message is clear: Mr. Trump is here to stay.

Elected officials and activists who spoke on the first day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in Florida this year, focused on COVID-19 restrictions, the so-called cancel culture, how the 2020 election was administered and the threats they see from Democratic policies. While there was barely any mention of the attack at the Capitol last month, speakers railed against the “liberal mob” and riots over the summer.

The conference doesn’t feature open critics of the former president, so praise for Mr. Trump, who still has the support of most GOP voters, was a theme of the opening day.

“There are a whole lot of voices in Washington that want to just erase the last four years,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz told the crowd. “Let me tell you right now: Donald J. Trump ain’t going anywhere.”

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton told a story about an immigrant attributing his economic success to the former president, and celebrated Mr. Trump ability to attract Latino voters in the 2020 election.

And Missouri Senator Josh Hawley received a standing ovation when he told the crowd of his objection to the election results on January 6. He blasted Twitter for banning Trump, and ended his speech with: “America now, America first, America forever.”

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Many speakers urged the Republican Party against a return to its pre-Trump origins and criticized some of the policies past GOP leaders have pushed.

“We will not win the future by trying to go back to where the Republican Party used to be,” said Florida Senator Rick Scott, who also chairs the Senate Republicans’ campaign operation. “If we do, we will lose the working base that President Trump so animated. We’re going to lose elections across the country and ultimately we’re going to lose our nation.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is up for reelection in 2022, set his own mark for conservatives going forward, saying the party rejects open borders, “weakness” against China and “military adventurism.”

“We will not go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear,” he said. “Hold the line, stand your ground, and don’t ever, ever back down.”

Hawley told the people attending CPAC that they “represent what’s coming next.”

“To the people who say to us, ‘Oh, you’re the past. Your moment has passed, it’s over. It’s Joe Biden’s America now,'” he said. “I just want to say, ‘we’re not the past. We’re the future,'” he said.

At the event, Hawley wore the widespread criticism of his objection to the counting of Electoral College votes on January 6 as a badge of honor.

“I was called a traitor, I was called a seditionist,” he said of the reaction to his vote. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m standing right here. I’m going to stand up for you, because if we can’t have free and open debate in this country, we’re not going to have a country left.” His phrasing echoed a remark made by Mr. Trump to his supporters that day: “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Nearly a dozen speakers at the event have been mentioned as possible 2024 presidential candidates. “For a second there, I thought we were in Des Moines,” Cruz quipped about the speaking lineup.

Cotton, among the likely White House hopefuls, suggested Republicans might not be running against Biden in four years. “They want to give amnesty to 15 to 20 million illegal aliens. With no strings attached, with voting rights —presumably in time for what they hope will be Kamala Harris’ reelection campaign,” he said.

But as a roster of Republicans compete to boost their profiles, it is Mr. Trump who is the marquee speaker, set to make his first public remarks since leaving office at the conference on Sunday.

Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., joked that the conference should be called “TPAC” because of the support the former president has among the audience. He offered a brief preview of his father’s speech, telling the crowd, “I imagine it will not be what we call a ‘low-energy’ speech. And I assure you that it will solidify Donald Trump and all of your feelings about the MAGA Movement as the future of the Republican Party.”

Polling shows Mr. Trump still holds a firm grip on the Republican Party’s base. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll published earlier this week found nearly 6 in 10 Trump supporters said they’d like to see him run for president again in 2024 and 76% said they’d vote for him if he sought the Republican nomination.

Saturday’s notable speakers include Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who have been floated as potential 2024 presidential candidates.

“President Biden has set forth a national plan to crush the virus,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist., on the House floor. “With this bill, Congress is providing the president with the resources and the tools to implement a national plan that was sorely lacking under President Trump.”

The legislation also would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, matching New Jersey’s. But unlike the state, the federal provision would require tipped workers such as restaurant workers and bartenders to be paid $15 an hour, not including gratuities.

But Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that the wage increase could not be included in the Senate version of the legislation under reconciliation, leaving Democrats to find an alternative that would pass muster.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Biden still supported the $15 an hour minimum wage and wanted to see it enacted.

“I will tell you that we are committed to finding the best path forward to increasing the minimum wage, and that will require a number of conversations with leaders in Congress and members who are committed to this issue moving forward,” Psaki said at her daily press briefing.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said they would try to get the wage hike into the stimulus bill some other way, perhaps through tax incentives and penalties.

“We couldn’t get in the front door or the back door, so we’ll try to go in through the window,” Wyden said.

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Democrats said the still-faltering economy and the half-million American lives lost demanded quick, decisive action. GOP lawmakers, they said, were out of step

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The House approved a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill early Saturday in a win for President Joe Biden, even as top Democrats tried assuring agitated progressives that they’d revive their derailed drive to boost the minimum wage.

The new president’s vision for flushing cash to individuals, businesses, states and cities battered by COVID-19 passed on a near party-line 219-212 vote. That ships the massive measure to the Senate, where Democrats seem bent on resuscitating their minimum wage push and fights could erupt over state aid and other issues.

Democrats said the still-faltering economy and the half-million American lives lost demanded quick, decisive action. GOP lawmakers, they said, were out of step with a public that polling shows largely views the bill favorably.

“I am a happy camper tonight,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Friday. “This is what America needs. Republicans, you ought to be a part of this. But if you’re not, we’re going without you.”

Republicans said the bill was too expensive and said too few education dollars would be spent quickly to immediately reopen schools. They said it was laden with gifts to Democratic constituencies like labor unions and funneled money to Democratic-run states they suggested didn’t need it because their budgets had bounced back.

“To my colleagues who say this bill is bold, I say it’s bloated,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “To those who say it’s urgent, I say it’s unfocused. To those who say it’s popular, I say it is entirely partisan.”

Moderate Democratic Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon were the only two lawmakers to cross party lines. That sharp partisan divide is making the fight a showdown over who voters will reward for heaping more federal spending to combat the coronavirus and revive the economy atop the $4 trillion approved last year.

The battle is also emerging as an early test of Biden’s ability to hold together his party’s fragile congressional majorities — just 10 votes in the House and an evenly divided 50-50 Senate.

At the same time, Democrats were trying to figure out how to assuage progressives who lost their top priority in a jarring Senate setback Thursday.

That chamber’s nonpartisan parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, said Senate rules require that a federal minimum wage increase would have to be dropped from the COVID-19 bill, leaving the proposal on life support. The measure would gradually lift that minimum to $15 hourly by 2025, doubling the current $7.25 floor in effect since 2009.

Hoping to revive the effort in some form, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is considering adding a provision to the Senate version of the COVID-19 relief bill that would penalize large companies that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour, said a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.

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That was in line with ideas floated Thursday night by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a chief sponsor of the $15 plan, and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to boost taxes on corporations that don’t hit certain minimum wage targets.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered encouragement, too, calling a minimum wage increase “a financial necessity for our families, a great stimulus for our economy and a moral imperative for our country.” She said the House would “absolutely” approve a final version of the relief bill because of its widespread benefits, even if it lacked progressives’ treasured goal.

While Democratic leaders were eager to signal to rank-and-file progressives and liberal voters that they would not yield on the minimum wage fight, their pathway was unclear because of GOP opposition and questions over whether they had enough Democratic support.

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal, D-Mass., sidestepped a question on taxing companies that don’t boost pay, saying of Senate Democrats, “I hesitate to say anything until they decide on a strategy.”

Progressives were demanding that the Senate press ahead anyway on the minimum wage increase, even if it meant changing that chamber’s rules and eliminating the filibuster, a tactic that requires 60 votes for a bill to move forward.

“We’re going to have to reform the filibuster because we have to be able to deliver,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a progressive leader.

Republicans have continued to embrace the myth of a stolen election the annual rightwing conclave of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), underscoring how the party continues to sustain the baseless idea months after Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 race and the deadly assault on the Capitol.

This year’s gathering of some of the party’s most fervent supporters has a staggering seven sessions focused on voter fraud and election-related issues. Several have inflammatory titles. “Other culprits, why judges and media refuse to look at the evidence,” was the name of one panel discussion on Friday. “The left pulled the strings, covered it up, and even admits it,” was another. “Failed states (GA, PA, NV, oh my!)” is the title of another scheduled for this weekend.

‘The base is solidly behind him’: Trumpism expected to thrive at CPAC
Read more
Several speakers on Friday repeated debunked falsehoods about the election. Deroy Murdock, a Fox News contributor, repeated the lie that there were “mysterious late-night ballot dumps” that swung the election for Joe Biden and that there were vehicles with out-of-state license plates unloading ballots in the early hours of the election. Both of those claims have been debunked.

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Stoking fears about fraud and advocating for stricter voting rules has become commonplace among Republicans in recent years, but in the wake of Trump’s presidency – and his loss to Biden – it has become a common rallying cry in the party. Even so, some observers said the focus on fanning the flames of the conspiracy theory at CPAC was still alarming.

“One program on lessons learned from voting in 2020 is appropriate to restore trust for half of America, but not seven!” said Eric Johnson, a former Republican lawmaker in Georgia who advised Kelly Loeffler’s US Senate campaign.

“Donald Trump convinced his base – a majority of Republicans, if polls are to be believed – that the election was stolen. Though the CPAC organizers likely know it’s false, they’re using this as a wedge issue to excite the base and sell more tickets,” said Nick Pasternak, who recently left the Republican party after working on several GOP campaigns.

He added: “CPAC’s willingness to make the election lie such a big issue this year is a concerning symbol of what many in the party think – and what they’ll do.”

Even though dozens of judges across the country, including several appointed by Donald Trump, rejected claims of fraud after the election, Murdock and other speakers at CPAC accused judges of being unwilling to examine evidence of fraud.

Progressives are willing to accept defeat on the minimum wage for now and vote for President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief package. But they’re channeling their energy into a renewed push to kill the filibuster.

One day after the Senate parliamentarian effectively forced a $15 minimum wage hike out of Democrats’ coronavirus relief package, leading liberal activists are racing to turn their bitter setback into opportunity. The need to sacrifice a key Biden priority in order to ensure the Covid aid bill can pass the Senate with a simple majority has handed progressive lawmakers and their allied groups a new talking point in their long-running quest to eliminate the legislative filibuster.

“We promised a $15 minimum wage,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “So if that $15 minimum wage isn’t in this package, we are going to have to figure out a way to get it through. And if that means reforming the filibuster, then we should reform the filibuster.”

Democrats pushed hard to raise the minimum wage as part of the pandemic relief measure, which the Senate can pass with just 51 votes thanks to the protections of the arcane budget reconciliation process. But now that the chamber’s parliamentarian has ruled out adding the wage hike to the coronavirus bill, progressives see nuking the filibuster outright as their best — and perhaps only — chance of getting to $15 an hour.

Minimum wage
CONGRESS

Democrats short of a backup plan after minimum wage ruling
BY BURGESS EVERETT AND MARIANNE LEVINE

Very few Senate Democrats believe that the left’s demands to toss the chamber’s 60-vote threshold will have any effect on the dynamic in their 50-member caucus, where there’s currently not enough support for eliminating the filibuster. Still, pressure from progressives on and off the Hill — who turned the filibuster into a wedge issue during the Democratic presidential primary — is rapidly intensifying in only the second month of Biden’s tenure.

With Democrats preparing to take up other high-priority legislation, including a landmark voting rights bill and police reform, liberals’ clamor to end the filibuster is bound to cause new political headaches for party leaders.

Thursday night’s setback on the minimum wage is the first of many potential stressors to come as Democrats rethink the future of the legislative filibuster. Few of the party’s major policy priorities stand a real chance of passing the Senate without eliminating the tool that requires a 60-vote margin of approval for most measures.

“It’s going to take a few more issues that get momentarily frustrated for it to fully come to a head but we’re getting closer by the day,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of the liberal group Demand Justice.

Exactly which agenda item might constitute the Democratic breaking point is unclear, as the party pushes for a voting rights expansion, immigration reform and more.

Former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada ended the filibuster for executive-branch and some judicial nominees in 2013, a move known as the “nuclear option,” and current GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky continued down the path in 2017 by ending the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

“It may be that you have to demonstrate for the American people how grave a challenge it is to get major change done that affects their lives when you’ve got the blockade that the filibuster allows,” said Sen Bob Casey (D-Pa.), noting that he and other Senate Democrats who wouldn’t have supported ending the filibuster “are much more open to it” now.

Biden has consistently resisted calls to go nuclear and his press secretary reiterated that position after he took office. But he’s now confronting an aligned array of progressives in the House, Senate and outside advocacy groups newly emboldened to agitate against what they consider an arcane rule that’s a relic of the Jim Crow-era.

“The filibuster was never in the constitution, originated mostly by accident, and has historically been used to block civil rights,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) shortly after the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling. “It’s time to trash the Jim Crow filibuster.”

Schatz acknowledged in an interview Friday that Democrats currently “don’t have the votes to get rid of the filibuster,” but said the party can’t just throw up its hands and accept gridlock. “This is a monumental change, this is a necessary change,” he said.

Failing to fulfill the party’s promise of passing a $15 minimum wage could have dire consequences for Democrats at the ballot box, progressive lawmakers argue. Biden campaigned on increasing the hourly wage for the first time in a decade. The issue is also a longtime priority for key Democratic constituencies, including labor unions.

The pressure is particularly intense in the House, where leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have long expected that the minimum wage battle would turn into a broader debate on the filibuster. Some have privately been girding to have this exact fight with Senate institutionalists at this exact time.

Some on the left still believe their party could take up a fight with the parliamentarian, the Senate’s chief rules referee, to force the minimum wage provision into the bill. But most believe it’s a longshot, and are are eyeing the legislative filibuster as the bigger problem.

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“Our immediate options on this specific issue [are] to do something about this parliamentary obstacle or abolish the filibuster,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“We hope that the senators, the administration, fight as hard as we’ve been fighting,” added Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). “I think it is time that we stop coming up with excuses to do the right thing.”

Even if the filibuster were eliminated, however, it’s unclear if the $15 minimum wage would actually pass the Senate. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have said they do not support increasing the minimum wage to $15 as part of the coronavirus relief package. Manchin has said he supports an $11 minimum wage, which Ocasio-Cortez and others on the left have declared a nonstarter.

And when a group of Senate Republicans introduced a proposal this week to increase the minimum wage to $10, progressives blared their objections. Asked if she’d accept a compromise below $15, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) responded: “We need $15 an hour. That’s where I am.”

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Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are vocally opposing calls to eliminate the legislative filibuster. During negotiations on a power sharing agreement for the 50-50 Senate, McConnell insisted that Democrats commit to keeping the 60-vote threshold, a proposal that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected. And Republicans are quick to remind Democrats that they resisted pressure from then-President Donald Trump to do away with it when they controlled Washington in 2017.

Liberal activists have continually pressured skeptical Democrats on abolishing the legislative filibuster, mounting ad campaigns targeting Schumer — who is up for reelection next year — and others. Since Thursday’s ruling on the minimum wage hike, social justice groups such as Ultraviolet, Women’s March and the Sunrise Movement have called on Biden and Senate Democrats to get rid of the 60-vote margin.

“Everything the voters voted for that helped place Joe Biden in the White House requires the Senate to be able to fully function,” Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, said in an interview.

Nina Turner, an ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who is running for an open House seat in Ohio, said progressives have no plans to let up on their opposition to the filibuster.

“The people who were hired to do the people’s bidding are going to have to get the courage to do away with it,” said Turner. “A breaking point is coming. I just don’t know the what or the when.”

Hans von Spakovsky, a well-known conservative who has agitated for more restrictive voting policies for years, claimed that judges were reluctant to look at evidence because they feared they would be attacked. “When it becomes an extraordinary election contest, one with national implications and one in which they risk being attacked by one of the political parties, the news media, their reluctance gets even greater,” he said.

Pressed whether judges were afraid to look at the evidence, Von Spakovsky added: “I think in some cases that is true, in other cases they might have had valid procedural grounds, but it sure didn’t look like it to me.”

Asked how much evidence of fraud there was now, Murdock falsely said: “It may be shredded by now.”

Jesse Binnall, an attorney who represented the Trump campaign in Nevada, complained about the short deadline lawyers had to put together a case after the election and claimed judges were pressured by media reporting that noted voter fraud was not a widespread problem. “Right or wrong, they never tried to dig into the facts about voter fraud,” he said. “Our legs were cut off before we even walked into the courthouse.”

Litigants in American courts have to meet procedural thresholds to advance their case, something that prevents courts from having to hear frivolous claims. Again and again, Trump and his allies failed to convince courts that they cleared those bars.

“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption,” Matthew Braun, a federal judge in Pennsylvania, wrote in December as he tossed out an effort from Trump and his allies to block certification of the election results there. “Instead, this court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations … unsupported by the evidence.”

The comments at CPAC underscore how Republicans continue to stoke uncertainty about the election – even after judges and Republican and Democratic elected officials alike repeatedly examined allegations of wrongdoing and did not find fraud, they continue to insist that there is unexamined evidence. In state legislatures across the country, are pushing new restrictions on voting. There are at least 253 pending bills to restrict voting across the United States, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice.

In his remarks on Friday, Von Spakovsky expressed support for efforts to restrict voting by mail and said HR1, the bill pending in Congress that would require automatic and same-day registration, among other reforms, “the most anti-democratic bill I’ve ever seen during my 20 years in Washington”.

Jay Williams, a Republican strategist in Georgia, said the focus on elections was a way to gin up support among the party’s faithful base, which remains largely loyal to Trump and his allies.

“I would not equate ‘the party’ with CPAC so I wouldn’t put much stock in it from that perspective,” he said. “CPAC exists to make money and so it’s no surprise to me the organizers have jumped on to this issue as a way to drive engagement of their target market.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., another high-profile progressive, also said Senate rules must be changed, telling reporters that when Democrats meet with their constituents, “We can’t tell them that this didn’t get done because of an unelected parliamentarian.”

Traditionalists of both parties — including Biden, who served as a senator for 36 years — have opposed eliminating filibusters because they protect parties’ interests when they are in the Senate minority. Biden said weeks ago that he didn’t expect the minimum wage increase to survive the Senate’s rules.

Pelosi, too, seemed to shy away from dismantling Senate procedures, saying, “We will seek a solution consistent with Senate rules, and we will do so soon.”

The House COVID-19 bill includes the minimum wage increase, so the real battle over its fate will occur when the Senate debates its version over the next two weeks.

The overall relief bill would provide $1,400 payments to individuals, extend emergency unemployment benefits through August and increase tax credits for children and federal subsidies for health insurance.

It also provides billions for schools and colleges, state and local governments, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, renters, food producers and struggling industries like airlines, restaurants, bars and concert venues.

Democrats are pushing the relief measure through Congress under special rules that will let them avoid a Senate GOP filibuster, meaning that if they are united they won’t need any Republican votes.

It also lets the bill move faster, a top priority for Democrats who want the bill on Biden’s desk before the most recent emergency jobless benefits end on March 14.

But those same Senate rules prohibit provisions with only an “incidental” impact on the federal budget because they are chiefly driven by other policy purposes. MacDonough decided that the minimum wage provision failed that test.

Republicans oppose the $15 minimum wage target as an expense that would hurt businesses and cost jobs.

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