Tired of ads? Want to support our progressive journalism? Click to learn more.LEARN MORE

'$2,000 means $2,000': Ocasio-Cortez says $1,400 payments in Biden plan fall short of promised relief

While there is much for progressives to applaud in President-elect Joe Biden's newly released $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package—from a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage to billions in funding for vaccine distribution—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Thursday that the $1,400 direct payments included in the plan fall short of the promise that helped Democrats win control of the U.S. Senate.

"$2,000 means $2,000," the New York Democrat told the Washington Post. "$2,000 does not mean $1,400."

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) echoed Ocasio-Cortez's criticism in a tweet late Thursday:

On the eve of the Senate runoffs in Georgia, Biden told the state's voters that "$2,000 checks" would "go out the door" if they elected Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who both embraced the push for $2,000 checks on the campaign trail and ultimately defeated their Republican opponents.

"There's no one in America with more power to make that happen than you, the citizens of Atlanta, the citizens of Georgia, and that's not an exaggeration," the president-elect said of the $2,000 payments. "That's literally true."

But the Biden camp and others contend the plan was always to provide $1,400 checks on top of the $600 approved under a relief measure that President Donald Trump signed into law last month, not an additional $2,000 check—even though, in their messaging, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris continued to call for "$2,000 stimulus checks" after the $600 payments were already distributed to many Americans.

In response to one journalist's claim that Ocasio-Cortez is engaging in "goalpost-moving" by demanding $2,000 checks instead of the proposed $1,400 payments, progressive organizer Claire Sandberg tweeted that "Biden is the one who moved the goalpost."

"In a last-ditch effort to win the Senate, he said that '$2,000 checks' would 'go out the door' if Warnock and Ossoff won," said Sandberg, former national organizing director for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "Warnock posted this realistic image of a $2,000 Treasury check!"

On the whole, progressives largely welcomed Biden's nearly $2 trillion relief proposal as a solid first step while stressing that it is not sufficient to fully bring the U.S. economy out of deep recession and confront the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 388,000 people in the United States. Some economists have argued (pdf) that Congress must approve between $3-4.5 trillion in spending in the short-term to set the stage for a strong recovery.

It is far from clear how much of Biden's initial offer will become law, given that Democrats will control the Senate by the narrowest possible margin and thus be unable to afford any Democratic defections. Potentially making matters more difficult is Biden's insistence on attaining enough bipartisan support to push the proposal through the Senate with 60 votes.

The New York Times reported that top House and Senate Democrats "are preparing to pivot quickly to a parliamentary process known as budget reconciliation" if Biden fails to win the support of enough Republican lawmakers. Only a simple majority in the Senate is needed to pass bills through the reconciliation process, which Republicans used to ram through their massive tax cuts for the rich in 2017.

Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, vowed earlier this week to use the reconciliation process to "boldly address the needs of working families."

In a statement late Thursday, the Vermont senator said Biden "has put forth a very strong first installment of an emergency relief plan that will begin to provide desperately needed assistance to tens of millions of working families facing economic hardship during the pandemic." On top of $1,400 direct payments to many Americans—including adult dependents—the president-elect also proposed increasing the current $300-per-week federal unemployment supplement to $400 and extending emergency jobless programs through September.

"The president-elect's Covid relief plan includes many initiatives that the American people want and need, including increasing the $600 direct payments to $2,000, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour," Sanders continued. "As the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, I look forward to working with the president-elect and my colleagues in Congress to provide bold emergency relief to the American people as soon as possible."

After Joe Biden vowed '$2,000 checks will go out the door' ahead of Georgia wins, relief plan reportedly includes just $1,400

On the eve of the pivotal January 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia, President-elect Joe Biden promised that if Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff emerged victorious, "$2,000 checks will go out the door, restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now."

Georgia voters ultimately delivered, sending Ossoff and Warnock to the Senate and giving Democrats control of the chamber.

But the coronavirus relief proposal Biden plans to unveil Thursday is reportedly expected to include direct payments of just $1,400, raising the question of whether the president-elect is already backtracking on a promise that helped Democrats retake the Senate.

"Hopefully, Senate Democrats can look through all the nonsense that has been thrown at the proposal in the past few weeks and keep Biden and Schumer's promises to send out these $2,000 checks. America's poorest are depending on them."
—Matt Bruenig, People's Policy Project

"The stimulus package has a price tag above $1.5 trillion and includes a commitment for $1,400 stimulus checks," Reuters reported Thursday, citing an unnamed source familiar with the proposal.

On top of the $600 direct payment that was approved by the coronavirus relief measure signed into law last month, a new $1,400 check would bring the total direct payment that many Americans have received in recent weeks to $2,000.

That is what would have been accomplished by the House-passed CASH Act, legislation that proposed replacing the $600 payments in the most recent relief law with $2,000 checks. The Republican-controlled Senate blocked an effort by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to force a vote on the bill ahead of the Georgia runoffs. Both Warnock and Ossoff enthusiastically embraced the push for $2,000 direct payments.

But as Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and others have continued to call for $2,000 checks in the wake of the Georgia contests without explicitly clarifying that the payments would actually be a $1,400 top-off, analysts have openly wondered what precisely Democrats are proposing.

"So, heretofore, '$2,000 checks' have meant 'increasing the size of the $600 check by $1,400," New York magazine's Eric Levitz tweeted last week, referring to the goal of the CASH Act. "When Dems talk about $2,000 checks now, is that what they mean? Or do they mean bringing the total up to $2,600?"

On Thursday, writer and freelance journalist David Mizner tweeted in response to news of Biden's $1,400 proposal that it "looks like Biden is breaking his promise of $2,000 checks."

As recently as Tuesday, Harris tweeted that "we need $2,000 stimulus checks," pointing to strained food banks across the nation, struggling essential workers, and collapsing small businesses. Two days earlier, Biden declared on Twitter, "$600 is simply not enough when you have to choose between paying rent or putting food on the table."

"We need $2,000 stimulus checks," said the president-elect.

But in other comments following the Georgia races, Biden massaged his direct payment call to indicate that any new round of checks would be aimed at "finishing the job" started by the $600 payments.

"We need more direct relief flowing to families and small businesses, including finishing the job and getting people $2,000 in relief," Biden said in a speech last week announcing the latest members of his economic team. "$600 is simply not enough when you have to choose between paying rent or putting food on the table and keeping the lights on."

Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a similar message in a "Dear Colleague" letter earlier this week, writing, "Democrats wanted to do much more in the last bill and promised to do more, if given the opportunity, to increase direct payments to a total of $2,000—we will get that done."

Vanessa A. Bee, an editor at Current Affairs, tweeted sardonically Thursday that "I for one am sure the American public will be relieved when it realizes that when Biden said $2,000 checks would go out the door if the Dems won Georgia, he meant the difference between whatever the Trump administration happened to issue in January and $2,000."

"If they get mad." Bee continued, "we will simply print out the line buried in the fourth paragraph of the December Politico article and show it to them."

While the $1,400 checks Biden is reportedly set to propose would be the largest round of checks yet, the opening offer falls far short of what progressives in the House and Senate have been demanding for months.

Last April, as Common Dreams reported, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) called for $2,000 monthly payments, a proposal backed by 65% of U.S. voters. A month later, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Harris unveiled legislation that would provide most Americans with $2,000 monthly payments for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

After the Labor Department announced Thursday that another 1.2 million Americans filed jobless claims last week, CPC Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) warned that widespread economic suffering will continue if "we fail to respond at the scale of this crisis." Jayapal specifically called for $2,000 survival checks, rent cancellation, and other relief measures.

In a Washington Post op-ed on Thursday, Matt Bruenig, the founder of the People's Policy Project, rejected arguments advanced by opponents of the $2,000 direct payments—such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—and detailed why direct payments are "better and more well-targeted" to the needy "than every other major tax-credit program that currently exists."

"Hopefully, Senate Democrats can look through all the nonsense that has been thrown at the proposal in the past few weeks and keep Biden and Schumer's promises to send out these $2,000 checks," wrote Bruenig. "America's poorest are depending on them."

More broadly, Slate's Jordan Weissmann argued Wednesday that Biden should not weaken his coronavirus relief proposal with the goal of attracting "bipartisan support," which the president-elect is reportedly aiming to achieve.

"Don't worry about doing to much. Worry about doing too little, and about making sure that voters know that you've come to the rescue," Weissmann advised. "One danger is that the president-elect's desire for bipartisanship will get in the way of his instinct to act; at the moment, Biden reportedly wants to pass the next Covid relief bill with GOP support, rather than using the budget reconciliation process to enact it through a party-line vote."

"Will he pare back parts of his agenda to win cooperation from Mitch McConnell & Co., or burn precious time cajoling Republican senators who might not come along?" asked Weissmann. "Hopefully not."

'That is not justice!' Outrage as Rick Snyder hit with just two misdemeanor counts over role in Flint water crisis

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged Wednesday with two counts of willful neglect of duty for his role in the deadly and ongoing Flint water crisis, news that comes in the wake of a report indicating Snyder was aware of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak linked to the emergency months before he acknowledged it in public.

According to court records, Michigan prosecutors have charged the former Republican governor with misdemeanors that each carry up to one year in jail or a maximum fine of $1,000—a punishment that Flint resident and activist Melissa Mays denounced as "beyond disgusting and insulting."

"In America, a rich white man can poison 100,000 people and only get charged with a misdemeanor and fined ONE CENT per poisoned person," Mays tweeted late Wednesday. "That is not justice!"

"Unfortunately, during this tumultuous time, it doesn't seem that beating, killing, or poisoning of poor, black, or brown bodies is a crime in the eyes of the law, and these wealthy, white politicians literally get away with murder."
—Melissa Mays, Flint resident

The Wall Street Journal reported that "the charging document, a bare-bones filing made Wednesday in state court in Flint, lists only the two charges, and refers to April 25, 2014, as the 'offense date.' That day, Flint officials held a ceremony at the city's water plant to switch its water supply to the Flint River."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is expected to hold a press conference Thursday morning to detail the charges as well as the findings of an investigation into the water crisis.

The meager but groundbreaking charges against Snyder—the first governor in Michigan's 184-year history to be charged with crimes related to their time in office—were made public following a bombshell report by Jordan Chariton and Jenn Dize for The Intercept, which obtained documents suggesting that Snyder "knew about a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Flint as early as October 2014, when there was still a significant amount of time to save lives."

"In addition to willful neglect, investigators working on the case prior to Nessel had evidence to charge Snyder with misconduct in office," Chariton and Dize reported, citing documents and unnamed sources familiar with the probe. "The former criminal team also considered an involuntary manslaughter case... but had not yet concluded their investigation when the majority of the team was dismissed by new AG Nessel, who announced a revamped investigation in 2019."

"According to the findings of an investigation launched by Nessel's predecessor, then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, Snyder was involved in a mad dash of phone calls in October 2014 at the same time the deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Flint was raising alarm bells among state health and environmental officials—yet still unknown to the Flint residents drinking and bathing in Flint River water," Chariton and Dize wrote.

Evidence indicating Snyder knew of the Legionnaires' disease outbreak—which killed at least a dozen people and likely many more—in October of 2014 contradicts the then-governor's sworn testimony before Congress in 2016, when Snyder told lawmakers he first learned of the outbreak that January.

"By October 2014, six months after April's Flint River switch, Flint residents had been publicly complaining for months about odorous, discolored water coming from their taps," Chariton and Dize reported. "It was October 16 and 17 that stood out to investigators, and seemed to indicate that Snyder knew about dangerous bacteria in Flint's water in October 2014: 16 months earlier than he testified to Congress. The Intercept obtained phone records from search warrants that showed an all-out blitz of calls between Snyder [and other Michigan officials]."

"Criminal investigators saw the entire sequence of calls, coupled with the resulting public silence and denials of any knowledge, as Snyder and his top officials working to stop news of the Legionnaires' outbreak from emerging," Chariton and Dize added.

In a statement posted to Twitter shortly before news of the charges broke late Wednesday, Mays said she was "very apprehensive that the charges will be minor compared to the damage still being done to Flint residents."

"Unfortunately, during this tumultuous time, it doesn't seem that beating, killing, or poisoning of poor, black, or brown bodies is a crime in the eyes of the law, and these wealthy, white politicians literally get away with murder," said Mays. "These officials make the mistake of underestimating Flint's strength and will to fight. We know how strong we are. So we in Flint need to hold on to some hope that we will once again make history by holding those in power accountable for their actions, just like you or I would be."

'Have they ever had a job before?' Cori Bush tears into Republicans for evading metal detectors to enter House chamber

Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush late Tuesday suggested that some of her House Republican colleagues find a different line of work after several GOP lawmakers refused to walk through metal detectors established as a precautionary measure in the wake of the deadly invasion of the U.S. Capitol last week by a mob of President Donald Trump's supporters.

"If they won't abide by the simple things that this job calls for, then go find another one."
—Rep. Cori Bush

"First of all, we're talking about your job. Let's just look at it from the most basic level: If you work at McDonald's, you have to wear the uniform or you're not working today," the Missouri Democrat said in an appearance on MSNBC. "I don't know, have they ever had a job before?"

"To say that this is against your rights: do you rush through and not go through the metal detectors when you're trying to get on a plane? Like, that's a bunch of bullcrap," said Bush, the lead sponsor of a resolution that aims to expel the GOP lawmakers who incited the attack on the Capitol. "That is them trying to push the limits as far as they can. We have congressmembers who have said that they want to carry their guns on the floor, on the House floor... This is where we should feel safe, but you're bringing your guns to the office building. I don't feel safe around that. Many people don't feel safe with that."

In a tweet late Tuesday echoing the message of her interview, Bush wrote that "if you work at McDonald's and you don't wear the uniform, you don't work that day."

"If you won't abide by the rules of this job," Bush added, "go find another one."

Watch Bush's MSNBC appearance:

Bush's remarks came after Republican Reps. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Steve Stivers (Ohio), Larry Bucshon (Ind.), Van Taylor (Texas), and others on Tuesday complained about or evaded metal detectors put in place following last week's deadly attack on the Capitol Building.

"Boebert, a newly elected member who vowed in a viral video to carry a gun in the Capitol, was seen in an apparent dispute with police over going through the metal detector," NBC News reported. "Taylor refused to pass through the metal detector and argued with officers about it."

The metal detectors were installed outside of the House chamber after Democratic lawmakers raised the need for Capitol Police to take precautions against "all these members who were in league with the insurrectionists who love to carry their guns," as one unnamed Democrat told HuffPost earlier this week.

"Regular Americans have to go through a metal detector when they enter an airport. They don't scream and whine at police officers or have to be restrained," Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted Tuesday. "Children across the country have to do this to get into school and they handle it more maturely than members of Congress."

No, not 'totally appropriate': Poll shows 63 percent in US believe Trump incited deadly insurrection

Shortly after President Donald Trump on Tuesday characteristically refused to accept any responsibility for inciting the mob of his supporters that attacked the U.S. Capitol last week, new polling showed that nearly two-thirds of likely U.S. voters believe the lame-duck incumbent is directly to blame for the deadly violence.

According to a new national survey (pdf) conducted by Vox and Data for Progress, 63% of likely voters—including 81% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and just 32% of Republicans—believe Trump is either "very much" or "somewhat" to blame for the right-wing invasion of the Capitol Building, which led to the deaths of six people.

A majority of likely U.S. voters believe Republican lawmakers—specifically Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)—share some of the blame for inciting the mob attack on Congress as lawmakers moved to certify President-elect Joe Biden's decisive Electoral College victory.

Speaking to the press Tuesday during his first in-person public appearance since last Wednesday's attack, Trump expressed no regret for the unhinged speech he delivered just before his supporters invaded the halls of Congress and claimed that "people thought what I said was totally appropriate." The president didn't specify who thought his speech, which was packed with deranged lies about the election, was perfectly acceptable.

Trump's comments to reporters Tuesday came as the president is facing a likely second impeachment on at least one charge of inciting insurrection against the U.S. government. The House is expected to hold an impeachment vote as early as Wednesday.

The Vox-Data for Progress poll released Tuesday found that 51% of likely U.S. voters believe Trump should be "impeached for his role in attempting to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election and inciting riots that led to the storming of the Capitol Building."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted Tuesday that "Trump's speech last week openly incited insurrectionists to storm the Capitol."

"Today, he called those comments 'totally appropriate.' He is continuing to encourage insurrection and undermining the rule of law," Merkley added. "He must be held to account for attacking our Constitution and our country."

Pramila Jayapal demands House Sergeant at Arms remove GOP lawmakers who refuse masks after positive COVID test

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal late Monday castigated Republican lawmakers for their life-threatening refusal to wear face coverings and demanded that they be held to account after the Washington Democrat tested positive for Covid-19, a diagnosis that came after she was forced to hide in a room with GOP colleagues who declined to wear masks as a violent pro-Trump mob rampaged through the U.S. Capitol last week.

"This is not a joke. Our lives and our livelihoods are at risk, and anyone who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable for endangering our lives because of their selfish idiocy."
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal

In a furious statement, Jayapal slammed Republican lawmakers for "cruelly and selfishly" refusing to "take the bare minimum Covid-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event on top of a domestic terrorist attack."

"Too many Republicans have refused to take this pandemic and virus seriously, and in doing so, they endanger everyone around them," said the Washington Democrat, who was holed up for hours in a secured room with more than 100 people during the mob attack.

Jayapal pointed to video footage published by Punchbowl News showing Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Michael Cloud (Texas), and others in the room rejecting surgical masks offered by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.).

Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called for "serious fines to be immediately levied on every single member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol" and said that any lawmaker who declines to put on a face covering "should be immediately removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms."

"This is not a joke," said Jayapal. "Our lives and our livelihoods are at risk, and anyone who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable for endangering our lives because of their selfish idiocy."

Jayapal's positive coronavirus test came hours after Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), a 75-year-old cancer survivor, announced her Covid-19 diagnosis Monday and said she believes she was exposed "during protective isolation in the U.S. Capitol building as a result of insurrectionist riots."

"While I feel OK, on my doctor's advice I'm on my way to a local hospital for monoclonal antibody treatment," Coleman tweeted late Monday afternoon. "I thank you for the outpouring of supportive messages. The love you've sent has been overwhelming. Please, wear a mask and social distance."

Jayapal, who told The Cut last week that she decided to quarantine following the Capitol lockdown out of fear of a superspreader event, was among those who voiced outrage in response to news of Coleman's positive test, tweeting that "we must hold GOP to the rules on the floor and in the Capitol."

"If they want to play Roulette with their own lives, go for it," Jayapal said. "But no one should be allowed on the floor or in rooms in violation of our rules and public health. We are at risk because of them. Follow the rules or leave."

'Oldest play in the book': Critics warn new domestic terror laws aimed at pro-Trump mob would be used against legitimate protest

Hearing ominous echoes of the post-9/11 crackdown on civil liberties, progressives are warning of the serious dangers posed by the renewed push for fresh laws targeting "domestic terrorism" in the wake of the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol last week by a mob of President Donald Trump's fanatical supporters.

While acknowledging the threat posed by right-wing extremists across the nation and affirming the need for forceful action in response to last week's attack, observers noted that existing federal laws are more than sufficient to hold the insurrectionists to account for invading the halls of Congress with possible intent to hold lawmakers hostage, attempting to topple the U.S. government, and potentially committing murder.

"There are already plenty of tools at the government's disposal to crack down on far-right insurrection," The Week's Ryan Cooper wrote in a column on Sunday.

"Whatever powers Biden creates today can be used by the enemies of democracy tomorrow. Our civil liberties are simply too fragile, and the risk is much too great."
—Sarah Jones, New York magazine

The problem, Cooper argued, is not a lack of laws but rather a deficiency of will from "police departments and security agencies [that] are composed largely of conservative Republicans, and not a few open fascists." Putting new laws in place would only hand law enforcement agencies additional weapons to wield against the left, Cooper wrote.

"If you just charge the existing agencies with breaking up domestic insurgent networks, at best they will shirk, delay, and drag their feet, and at worst they will completely ignore the fascists while turning any new tools against Black Lives Matter and other left-wing protesters," said Cooper. "Indeed, this is already happening—so far, the charges against the fascist mob have been trespassing or other minor crimes, rather than the felony riot charges the leftist J20 defendants faced for simply being near minor property destruction in downtown D.C. on the day of Trump's inauguration."

As the Wall Street Journal reported last Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden "has said he plans to make a priority of passing a law against domestic terrorism, and he has been urged to create a White House post overseeing the fight against ideologically inspired violent extremists and increasing funding to combat them."

Biden made a point of identifying members of the Trump mob as "domestic terrorists" in remarks following last week's attack, which he condemned as an "all-out assault on our institutions of democracy" led by the incumbent president.

Not long after the mob stormed Capitol Hill, some commentators began calling on Congress to begin work on a specific statute targeting "domestic terrorism"; as ProPublica explained last week, "while federal statutes provide a definition of domestic terrorism, there is not a specific law outlawing it."

The call drew swift pushback from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who tweeted Saturday that "as the vice chair of the Oversight subcommittee who ran investigations into domestic terror laws, I respectfully disagree."

"Our problems on Wednesday weren't that there weren't enough laws, resources, or intelligence," said the New York Democrat. "We had them, and they were not used. It's time to find out why."

Diala Shamas, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, echoed that point, telling The Intercept Sunday that "anyone familiar with the scope of surveillance and targeting of Black political dissents, or Muslim communities, knows that law enforcement has all the tools it needs to aggressively disrupt and hold accountable those who planned and participated in the storming of the Capitol."

"Why they didn't raises serious questions, but it was not because their hands were tied," said Shamas. "We don't need new terrorism designations."

The notorious 2001 Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks with Biden's support, provides an expansive definition of "domestic terrorism" that—as the ACLU warned—was "broad enough to encompass the activities of several prominent activist campaigns and organizations," including "Greenpeace, Operation Rescue, Vieques Island, and [World Trade Organization] protesters and the Environmental Liberation Front."

The fears of civil liberties advocates were realized when, as predicted, law enforcement agencies proceeded to surveil and pursue animal rights advocates and environmentalists as well as Muslim Americans.

Warning Biden against enacting additional draconian measures in response to last week's mob attack, New York magazine's Sarah Jones wrote that the "state does not lack teeth" but "has too many at its disposal already." What's really missing in the way law enforcement and prosecutors handle protest—or violent uprisings—is lack of "discretion, and all sense of proportion" when they respond, Jones argued.

"Whatever powers Biden creates today can be used by the enemies of democracy tomorrow," warned Jones. "Our civil liberties are simply too fragile, and the risk is much too great."

'Co-conspirators in sedition': Here are the names of every Republican who voted to overturn election results

In the wake of an assault on the U.S. Capitol by a fascist mob ginned up by President Donald Trump, many Republicans in the House and Senate still voted Thursday to object to President-elect Joe Biden's decisive election win in a lie-fueled, last-ditch attempt to overturn the results of the democratic process and disenfranchise tens of millions of voters.

The effort ultimately failed as Congress voted in the early hours of Thursday morning to certify Biden's victory over the Republican objections, but progressive lawmakers are demanding accountability for the GOP members who were complicit in the Trump-led coup attempt.

"They are co-conspirators in sedition," Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) said of the Republican lawmakers who objected to the certification of Biden's win.

As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) is planning to introduce a resolution calling for the expulsion of lawmakers who "incited this domestic terror attack through their attempts to overturn the election."

"They have broken their sacred Oath of Office," Bush added.

In a statement late Wednesday, Brian Kettering of the Center for Popular Democracy Action said in support of Bush's resolution that "Trump and members of Congress must face consequences for inciting an attempted coup to stop the peaceful transition of power, which is enshrined into our Constitution."

"We cannot stand by," said Kettering, "while the very people elected to protect our democracy encourage violent attempts to overthrow the government."

Below are the names of the Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate who voted in favor of rejecting electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, battleground states that Biden carried.

he 121 House Republicans who voted to reject Arizona's electoral votes:The 138 House Republicans who voted to reject Pennsylvania's electoral votes:The six Senate Republicans who voted to reject Arizona's electoral votes:

The seven Senate Republicans who voted to reject Pennsylvania's electoral votes:

"Let's vote her out," says Warnock after Loeffler vows on eve of runoffs to object to Biden Electoral College win

At a campaign rally with lame-duck President Donald Trump just hours before Georgians were set to head to the polls for the pivotal U.S. Senate runoffs, incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler vowed late Monday to object when Congress meets this week to certify President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory, joining a last-ditch mass disenfranchisement effort by the GOP that is doomed to fail.

While the Dalton, Georgia rally was intended to boost Republican enthusiasm for the Tuesday runoffs, Trump and Loeffler spent much of their time on stage railing against the integrity of the November presidential election, with the outgoing president rehashing his now-familiar and false claims of widespread voter fraud and defending his possibly criminal call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

"Unelected Senator Kelly Loeffler wants to undermine your vote and overturn Georgia's election."
—Rev. Raphael Warnock

"Everyone liked my phone call," the outgoing president said.

Trump didn't mention the Covid-19 pandemic during his 90-minute speech, which came as the U.S. reported 2,800 new coronavirus-related hospitalizations Monday, bringing the total number of people currently hospitalized to a record 128,000.

Loeffler, for her part, opened her brief remarks with an announcement that was met with enthusiastic applause: "On January 6th, I will object to the Electoral College vote. That's right, that's right. Thank you. We're gonna get this done!"

Democratic Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock, Loeffler's opponent, immediately seized upon the appointed Georgia Republican's vow as further proof of her disregard for the will of the state's voters, who chose Biden by a narrow margin in November.

"Unelected Senator Kelly Loeffler wants to undermine your vote and overturn Georgia's election," Warnock tweeted late Monday. "Let's show her that Georgia voters will not be silenced or ignored. Tomorrow, let's vote her out."

Because his Senate term ended on January 3 with the beginning of the new Congress, David Perdue—who is facing off against Democrat Jon Ossoff on Tuesday—will not be able to vote for or against the certification of Biden's decisive victory when Congress meets Wednesday.

But during a recorded video speech played at Monday's rally in Dalton, Perdue joined Loeffler in attacking the November election results. "If you're as mad as I am about November, then rise up with us and fight," said Perdue, who is quarantining after being exposed to the coronavirus last week. "Fight by doing the only thing you can do right now, and that is to vote tomorrow."

"We can pass $2,000 relief checks for the people, but we have to win this Senate election."
—Jon Ossoff

"If we don't all get out and vote tomorrow," Perdue added, "everything President Trump has done to make America great again is gone."

As The Nation's John Nichols noted in a column last month, both Loeffler and Perdue "endorsed a bizarre legal scheme by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to overturn the results from four battleground states that played a pivotal role in deciding the 2020 election for President-elect Joe Biden: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia." The Texas lawsuit was ultimately rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"That's right," Nichols wrote, "Loeffler, an appointed senator seeking to win a January 5 special-election runoff, and Perdue, an incumbent seeking to win a second term in a regular runoff on the same day, proposed to disenfranchise their constituents, all five million Georgians who voted for a presidential candidate in the November 3 election—the 2,475,141 who backed Biden and 2,462,857 who backed Trump, the roughly 62,000 who voted for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen and everyone who cast a write-in ballot for the Greens or another party or Mickey Mouse."

"Unfortunately," Nichols added, "courtroom failures have not dimmed Loeffler and Perdue's determination to diminish, dismantle, and, if necessary, overturn democracy."

A record-shattering three million Georgians cast their ballots before early voting for the two runoffs ended last week, turnout that—according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution—appeared to favor the Democratic candidates. If Democrats win both runoff contests, the party will effectively take control of the Senate, stripping Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of much of his power to stonewall much-needed coronavirus relief.

"We can pass $2,000 relief checks for the people, but we have to win this Senate election," Ossoff tweeted late Monday, echoing a message Biden delivered during an Atlanta rally earlier in the day.

"If you send Sens. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It's just that simple," said the president-elect. "The power is literally in your hands."

'Trump has not acted alone': House Dem demands criminal probe into president—and GOP enablers

Declaring that newly leaked audio of President Donald Trump's call with Georgia's secretary of state "makes Nixon's 'smoking gun' tape sound tame," Democratic Congressman Don Beyer on Monday demanded a criminal investigation into the outgoing incumbent and any officials who have assisted his desperate last-ditch effort to overturn the results of the November election.

"The recording released yesterday establishes beyond a doubt that Donald Trump used the power of his office to threaten election officials, and to coerce them into committing criminal acts to overturn the election results," Beyer of Virginia wrote in a series of tweets, referring to an hour-long call in which the president pressed Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to overturn President-elect Biden's victory.

"Trump must be held accountable for his illegal acts and his attacks on the Constitution. Nothing less than a criminal investigation will serve."
—Rep. Don Beyer

Throughout the conversation, Trump reiterated a litany of familiar and false claims about "voter fraud" and claimed that Raffensperger's refusal to act on the baseless allegations is "criminal."

"So look. All I want to do is this," Trump said. "I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state."

Beyer noted that Trump's call with Raffensperger was not the first time the president has pressured an elected official to use their power to subvert the will of the public and undo his decisive loss. Last month, as Common Dreams reported, Trump called Pennsylvania's Republican House Speaker twice demanding that he take action to overturn Biden's victory in the key battleground state.

"Trump has held numerous meetings and calls with election officials and lawmakers in other states where he has attempted to negate election results," Beyer noted Monday. "Those conversations should be examined by investigators to determine whether Trump engaged in additional criminal acts."

Beyer goes on to specifically single out White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows—who took part in Trump's Saturday call with Raffensperger—and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as officials "who may have been party to criminal acts intended to change election results." In a post-election interview in November, Raffensperger identified Graham as one of a number of Republicans who pressured him to find ways to overturn Trump's defeat in the days after the November contest.

"Trump must be held accountable for his illegal acts and his attacks on the Constitution," Beyer concluded. "Nothing less than a criminal investigation will serve."

Beyer joins a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers demanding that Trump be held to account for attempting to invalidate the results of the 2020 presidential election, an effort that came days before Congress is set to meet Wednesday to officially cetify Biden's Electoral College victory. More than 150 Republican lawmakers—a dozen senators and 140 House members—are expected to object to the certification.

On Monday, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) sent a letter urging FBI Director Christopher Wray to "open an immediate criminal investigation into the president," noting that "the evidence of election fraud by Mr. Trump is now in broad daylight."

"As members of Congress and former prosecutors, we believe Donald Trump engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes."
—Reps. Ted Lieu and Kathleen Rice

"As members of Congress and former prosecutors, we believe Donald Trump engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes," the lawmakers wrote. "Given the more than ample factual predicate, we are making a criminal referral to you to open an investigation into Mr. Trump."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two Democrat in the Senate, is also calling for a "criminal investigation" into what he called Trump's "disgraceful effort to intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing and misrepresenting the legally confirmed vote totals in his state."

"Those who encourage and support his conduct, including my Senate colleagues, are putting the orderly and peaceful transition of power in our nation at risk," Durbin said in a statement late Sunday.

Legal experts argued that Trump's remarks in his call with Raffensperger could amount to violations of both state and federal law. David Worley, an Atlanta lawyer and the lone Democrat on Georgia's state election board, told the Washington Post that "it's a crime to solicit election fraud, and asking the secretary to change the votes is a textbook definition of election fraud."

In a column for The Nation on Monday, Jeet Heer argued that while Trump's last-ditch push to overturn the November election has "no real chance of success," the lame-duck president's authoritarian and likely unlawful behavior warrants a forceful response.

"Trump is diminishing in political power with every passing day and there is no need to make unrealistic claims about his ability to overturn the election," wrote Heer. "Still, attempted crimes by a president require retribution. Even if he's only an irritant, Trump deserves to be swatted down."

'Open-and-shut federal crime': Members of Congress demand prosecution of Trump for election tampering

Democratic members of Congress late Sunday joined the chorus denouncing outgoing President Donald Trump's desperate attempt to pressure Georgia's top election official to "find" enough votes to overturn the state's November results, a failed effort that lawmakers and legal experts said amounts to an attack on democracy and a blatant criminal offense.

"This is clearly an impeachable offense and I believe there is nothing under the law giving Trump immunity from criminal process and indictment for this conduct," said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). "The law and order party is a farce."

At turns pleading and threatening, the lame-duck president's hour-long Saturday call with Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—a recording of which was obtained and published by several media outlets on Sunday—contained remarks that some legal experts said constitute clear violations of both state and federal law.

"Trump on tape yesterday asking Georgia's top election official to 'find' new votes seems like an open-and-shut federal (and state) crime. Trump must be prosecuted once he leaves office."
—Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr.

Ryan Locke, a criminal defense lawyer and former public defender in Atlanta, told the New York Times that Trump could be prosecuted under a Georgia law that makes it a felony to "solicit, request, command, importune, or otherwise attempt to cause another person to engage in election fraud."

"He's telling the secretary of state to 'find votes so that I can win—votes that are not due to me,'" Locke said. "The recording alone is certainly enough to launch an investigation. It's likely probable cause to issue an indictment."

The Times noted that "at the federal level, anyone who 'knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds, or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process' is breaking the law."

"Donald Trump once again abused the power of his office, demanded interference in our elections, betrayed this country, and attacked our democracy," tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "We must hold him fully accountable, even after he leaves office. There must be justice."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two Democrat in the Senate, called for a "criminal investigation" into what he described as Trump's "disgraceful effort to intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing and misrepresenting the legally confirmed vote totals in his state."

"Those who encourage and support his conduct, including my Senate colleagues, are putting the orderly and peaceful transition of power in our nation at risk," said Durbin, referring to the Senate Republicans who plan to join 140 of their House GOP allies this week in attempting to contest President-elect Joe Biden's decisive victory.

The burden of whether to pursue federal criminal charges against Trump for what one House Democrat called "illegal election tampering" will likely fall to the incoming Biden administration. In an August interview, Biden questioned whether attempting to prosecute Trump for crimes committed during his four years in the White House would be "good for democracy," but added that he would not "interfere with the Justice Department's judgment."

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.), who in November demanded that the DOJ prosecute Trump for his "innumerable crimes against the United States," said Sunday that "this latest attempted election-rigging felony" should be added "to the bill of indictment."

"Trump on tape yesterday asking Georgia's top election official to 'find' new votes seems like an open-and-shut federal (and state) crime," said Pascrell. "Trump must be prosecuted once he leaves office."

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement late Sunday that Trump may have "subjected himself to additional criminal liability" by threatening Georgia election officials in his effort to overturn his loss and remain in office.

"The American people will draw a straight line from President Trump's phone call, where he implores a state official to 'find' the 11,780 votes he needs to overcome his margin of defeat in Georgia, to the efforts of certain members of the House and Senate to block President-elect Biden's victory when the Electoral College results are certified," said Nadler. "Both tactics are reckless, deeply selfish, and place love of power over commitment to our democratic process."

Iran's top diplomat warns Trump plotting to 'fabricate pretext for war' as US flies B-52s over Persian Gulf

Hours after the U.S. flew two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over the Persian Gulf for the second time this month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed Thursday that he is aware of intelligence suggesting that President Donald Trump's administration is engaged in a "plot to fabricate a pretext for war"during its final days in power.

"Instead of fighting Covid in the U.S., Donald Trump and cohorts waste billions to fly B-52s and send armadas to our region," Zarif tweeted, referring to a Wednesday maneuver by the U.S. that American officials predictably characterized as defensive. The flight came just over a week after the U.S. sailed a nuclear submarine through the Persian Gulf and touted the vessel's "ability to carry up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles."

"Intelligence from Iraq indicates a plot to fabricate a pretext for war," Zarif said Thursday. "Iran doesn't seek war but will openly and directly defend its people, security, and vital interests."

"War with Iran could be Trump's final punishment on the American people for rejecting him and a massive act of sabotage against Biden for defeating him."
—Sina Toossi, National Iranian American Council

The warning from Iran's top diplomat, a key negotiator of the nuclear agreement that Trump violated in 2018, came after U.S. officials blamed Iran for a recent missile attack on the American embassy in Baghdad and claimed without evidence that Tehran is preparing a "possibly imminent attack" on U.S. forces in the Middle East.

"Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch," Trump tweeted last week. "Guess where they were from: IRAN. Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq."

Iran denied responsibility for the embassy attack—which injured one Iraqi and damaged two buildings—and accused the Trump administration of "seeking to increase tensions" in the region with baseless allegations.

One unnamed senior U.S. defense official expressed concern to CNN Wednesday that "some within the government are painting the situation with Iran as more dire than it actually is and are preoccupied with the potential for retaliatory attacks by Iran to mark the anniversary of [Gen. Qasem] Soleimani's assassination," which Trump ordered nearly a year ago. Denounced as a violation of international law, the killing nearly provoked an all-out war between the U.S. and Iran.

"When you need a show of force to deter attacks around the anniversary of an assassination that you originally justified as 'reestablishing deterrence,' you haven't reestablished deterrence," tweeted Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in response to the B-52 flight Wednesday. "And yes, obviously the whole 'reestablishing deterrence' claim was dishonest nonsense from the beginning, but it's worth pointing out that it's been disproven even according to its own dishonest, nonsensical terms."

The latest B-52 maneuver took place amid simmering fears that Trump and the warhawks in his administration could be angling to attack Iran in a last-ditch effort to undermine President-elect Joe Biden's push to reestablish diplomatic relations with Tehran and return the U.S. to compliance with the nuclear accord. Just last month, Trump reportedly asked his advisers for a strike on Iran's primary nuclear energy site.

In an op-ed for Responsible Statecraft over the weekend, former CIA analyst Paul Pillar wrote that the "the objective of sabotaging the next administration points to one of the most likely and dangerous things that the unhinged lame duck president might do in his final days in office, which is to initiate a military clash with Iran."

Sina Toossi, senior research analyst with the National Iranian American Council, echoed Pillar's warning in a tweet on Wednesday.

"War with Iran," wrote Toossi, "could be Trump's final punishment on the American people for rejecting him and a massive act of sabotage against Biden for defeating him."

After GOP repeatedly blocked vote on $2,000 checks, 41 Dems joined McConnell to advance $740 billion Pentagon bill

After Senate Republicans repeatedly stymied a Sen. Bernie Sanders-led effort to force a clean up-or-down vote on $2,000 direct payments, dozens of Democrats late Wednesday joined Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in allowing the chamber to move ahead with the process of overriding President Donald Trump's veto of the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act.

The vote on the motion to proceed to the NDAA veto override came after Sanders, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and others denied McConnell unanimous consent this week to speedily advance the behemoth military spending bill, a tactic aimed at securing a clean vote on House-passed legislation that would deliver $2,000 payments to most Americans.

"Maybe my colleague, the Majority Leader, might want to get on the phone and start talking to working families in Kentucky and find out how they feel about the need for immediate help in terms of a $2,000 check per adult."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

But McConnell, joined by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), rejected the push for a vote on the direct payments once again on Wednesday, declaring that the checks would benefit "millionaires and billionaires"—a complaint that was both false and shamelessly hypocritical, given that the same Republicans had no issue with passing President Donald Trump's $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy in 2017.

Thanks to the delay tactics that Sanders spearheaded, McConnell was forced to hold a vote Wednesday on a formal motion to proceed to the NDAA. But ultimately, Sanders was one of just six members of the Senate Democratic caucus to vote against the motion, which succeeded by an overwhelming margin of 80-12.

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) joined the Vermont senator in opposing the motion. Six Republicans also voted no.

In total, 41 Democrats—including Schumer and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris—voted for the motion, paving the way for an override of Trump's NDAA veto and effectively killing the prospect of a vote on $2,000 direct payments before the next Congress. View the full roll call here.

A final vote on the NDAA veto override is expected by January 2. Sanders made clear following the motion's passage Wednesday that he plans to continue pushing for a vote on the direct payments.

"The sheer scale of Wednesday's Democratic surrender was truly a sight to behold," wrote The Daily Poster's David Sirota and Andrew Perez. "And it probably ended the chance for more immediate aid to millions of Americans facing eviction, starvation, and bankruptcy... Democratic senators in fact provided the majority of the votes for the measure that lets the defense bill proceed without a vote on the $2,000 checks."

Ahead of Wednesday's vote, Sanders took Republican senators to task for standing in the way of robust direct relief for their constituents amid widespread hunger, surging poverty, and a looming eviction crisis. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said during his floor remarks that the Senate is "not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of the Democrats' rich friends who don't need the help."

"Let me just make it clear for the Majority Leader that 10 out of the poorest 25 counties in the United States of America are located in Kentucky," Sanders said in response. "So maybe my colleague, the Majority Leader, might want to get on the phone and start talking to working families in Kentucky and find out how they feel about the need for immediate help in terms of a $2,000 check per adult. And I have the strong feeling that the people of Kentucky will respond no differently than the people of Vermont or New York."

Sen. Ed Markey joined Sanders in demanding a vote on the $2,000 checks, declaring, "He is right. The Republicans are wrong on this issue, on every single part of this debate. Senator Sanders is right. The Republicans are wrong."

"We're in the middle of an unprecedented crisis in our country," Markey said. "We have a healthcare crisis. We have an unemployment crisis. We have a hunger crisis. We have a housing crisis. We have an addiction crisis. We have a moral crisis in this country. The United States government should be responding to the needs, to the desperation, of families in our country at this time."

'This is warp speed?' At current pace, US will take 10 years to adequately vaccinate the public

If the Trump administration's coronavirus vaccine distribution effort continues at its current sluggish pace, it would take nearly a decade for the United States to inoculate an adequate number of Americans to rein in the deadly pandemic.

That's according to an analysis released Tuesday by NBC News, which found that the U.S. is nowhere near on track to meet the Trump administration's stated goal of vaccinating around 80% of the population by late June of 2021.

"To meet that goal, a little more than three million people would have to get the shots each day," NBC noted. "But so far, only about two million people—most of them frontline healthcare workers and some nursing home residents—have gotten their first shots of the 11.5 million doses that were delivered in the last two weeks."

"States are stretched. Feds are supposed to help. But the same folks who blamed states for the testing mess now ready to blame states for the vaccine slowdown."
—Ashish Jha, Brown University School of Public Health

President-elect Joe Biden took aim at the Trump administration's slow and chaotic vaccine rollout in a speech Tuesday, declaring that the "plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind." Warning it will "take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people" if significant changes aren't made, Biden promised "a much more aggressive effort, with more federal involvement and leadership, to get things back on track."

"We'll find ways to boost the pace of vaccinations," said Biden, who vowed to invoke the Defense Production Act to speed up the manufacture of necessary materials.

In response to Biden's remarks, outgoing President Donald Trump characteristically refused to take responsibility for the lagging distribution effort, instead placing the blame on crisis-ravaged states.

"It is up to the states to distribute the vaccines once brought to the designated areas by the federal government," Trump tweeted. "We have not only developed the vaccines, including putting up money to move the process along quickly, but gotten them to the states."

While there is plenty of evidence indicating that state officials are moving too slowly—Texas' health commissioner, for instance, warned last week that a "significant portion" of the state's vaccine supply is sitting on shelves—critics have argued that the Trump administration failed to lay the groundwork for a speedy and effective distribution effort, effectively guaranteeing that states would struggle getting vaccine doses out the door.

"This is warp speed?" Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), asked in a blog post Monday, pointing to the relatively small number of people in the U.S. who have received shots since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for emergency use earlier this month.

"We should have had major warehouses located around the country so that as soon as the FDA green-lighted a vaccine, it could quickly be delivered to hospitals and clinics in every corner of the country," Baker argued. "We should have been prepared to start inoculating millions of people the day a vaccine was approved. This is a massive policy failure."

Ashish Jha, a physician and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, echoed Baker's criticism of the Trump administration in a series of tweets on Monday.

"The worst part is no real planning on what happens when vaccines arrive in states. No plan, no money, just hope that states will figure this out," Jha wrote. "[State health departments] are trying to stand up a vaccination infrastructure. Congress had given them no money. States are out of money, so many are passing it on to hospitals, nursing homes."

"Public health has always been a state/federal partnership," Jha added. "States are stretched. Feds are supposed to help. But the same folks who blamed states for the testing mess now ready to blame states for the vaccine slowdown. They are again setting states up to fail."

Growing fears about the lagging pace of vaccinations come as Colorado on Tuesday reported the first U.S. case of a more contagious coronavirus variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom. Experts said it is possible that the variant has spread in the Colorado patient's community and possibly elsewhere in the U.S., which has the highest Covid-19 death toll in the world.

As the New York Times reported, "Scientists are worried about variants but not surprised by them. It is normal for viruses to mutate, and most of the mutations of the coronavirus have proved minor. There's no evidence that an infection with the variant—known as B.1.1.7—is more likely to lead to a severe case of Covid-19, increase the risk of death or evade the new vaccines."

"But the speed at which the variant seems to spread," the Times added, "could lead to more infections—and therefore more hospitalizations," heightening the urgency of the vaccine rollout.

Leana Wen, visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University's Milken School of Public Health, wrote in a column for the Washington Post on Tuesday that the speed of vaccinations thus far "should set off alarms."

"Remember, the first group of vaccinations was supposed to be the easiest: It's hospitals and nursing homes inoculating their own workers and residents," Wen wrote. "If we can't get this right, it doesn't bode well for the rest of the country."

Wen proceeded to take the Trump administration to task for repeatedly shifting the goal posts as it failed to meet its initial targets for the mass inoculation campaign.

"When states learned they would receive fewer doses than they had been told, the administration said its end-of-year goal was not for vaccinations but vaccine distribution," Wen noted. "It also halved the number of doses that would be available to people, from 40 million to 20 million. (Perhaps they hoped no one would notice that their initial pledge was to vaccinate 20 million people, which is 40 million doses, or that President Trump had at one point vowed to have 100 million doses by the end of the year.)"

"Instead of muddying the waters, the federal government needs to take three urgent steps. First, set up a real-time public dashboard to track vaccine distribution," Wen wrote. "Second, publicize the plan for how vaccination will scale up so dramatically... Third, acknowledge the challenges and end the defensiveness. The public will understand if initial goals need to be revised, but there must be willingness to learn from missteps and immediately course-correct."

'Cynical gambit': Mitch McConnell condemned for pushing poison pills in bid to tank $2,000 checks

Shortly after blocking efforts by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Senate Democrats to force a vote on a House-passed bill that would provide $2,000 direct payments to most Americans, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell late Tuesday introduced new legislation tying the checks to Trump-backed provisions to repeal legal protections for tech companies and establish a commission to study virtually non-existent voter fraud.

Senate Democrats immediately rejected the Kentucky Republican's bill (pdf) as a non-starter and warned the measure is an obvious effort to ensure that the $2,000 direct payments don't clear the Senate.

"Right now the issue on everybody's mind is how do I survive, how do I feed my kids, how do I not get evicted? So what we have got to do is just demand that McConnell bring forth a clean House bill."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

"Senator McConnell knows how to make $2,000 survival checks reality and he knows how to kill them," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. "If Sen. McConnell tries loading up the bipartisan House-passed CASH Act with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country, it will not pass the House and cannot become law."

"Any move like this by Sen. McConnell would be a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check," Schumer continued. "Will Senate Republicans go along with Sen. McConnell's cynical gambit or will they push him to give a vote on the standalone House-passed CASH Act?"

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) echoed Schumer, tweeting that "people are furious with Mitch McConnell for blocking a vote on the bill we passed to send Americans $2,000 checks, so now he's planning to try to kill it by adding poison pills that have nothing to do with Covid relief."

"Don't be fooled," said Beyer.

An essential problem with McConnell's legislation, as conservative policy analyst Rachel Bovard pointed out on Twitter, is that it "violates the constitutional requirement that revenue bills initiate in the House."

"This means it can't pass the Congress even if it accidentally passes the Senate," Bovard explained. "The Senate knows it violates the origination clause. The Senate deals with this issue all of the time. But why bother fixing a bill that is supposed to fail?"

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)—a top McConnell ally and an opponent of the stand-alone $2,000 payments bill—suggested Tuesday that the GOP should push legislation attaching the checks to liability protections for corporations that expose workers and customers to the coronavirus, a proposal Democrats viewed as further confirmation that Republicans are dead-set on killing the $2,000 payments.

Cornyn, who voted for Trump's tax cuts for the wealthy in 2017, also expressed concerns about the deficit impact of sending people larger direct payments.

"This is all funny money, borrowed money at this point, and that's another consideration," said the Texas Republican.

The efforts by Senate Republican leaders to prevent so much as an up-or-down vote on the CASH Act came after new polling showed that the proposed $2,000 payments are overwhelmingly popular among U.S. voters, including Republicans.

Some Senate Republicans, including Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, have voiced support for the $2,000 payments—though they have not backed Sanders' effort to secure a clean vote on the House-passed measure.

In a tweet late Tuesday, Trump reiterated his call for $2,000 payments—up from the $600 checks in the relief measure he signed into law on Sunday—while also demanding that lawmakers repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and prevent Democrats from "steal[ing] the presidential election," which Trump lost decisively despite his false claims to the contrary.

"Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP," the president tweeted. "$600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230—don't let Big Tech steal our country, and don't let the Democrats steal the presidential election. Get tough!"

Led by Sanders, members of the Senate Democratic caucus are expected to continue pushing for a clean vote on the House bill, which passed the lower chamber Monday with the support of 44 Republicans. On Tuesday, the Vermont senator stood in the way of McConnell's attempt to schedule a Wednesday vote to override Trump's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, legislation that would greenlight $740 billion in military spending for fiscal year 2021.

"The House passed, to their credit, a simple, straightforward bill," Sanders told reporters on Tuesday. "Let's not muddy the waters: Are you for $2,000 or are you not?"

In an interview with CNN's Jim Acosta Tuesday evening, Sanders mocked the notion that amid a deadly pandemic and massive economic crisis, the U.S. public is pining for the repeal of Section 230.

"Do you think, Jim, that all over America people are saying, my god, we have to repeal Section 230... my god, that is a major national priority?" Sanders said. "Right now the issue on everybody's mind is how do I survive, how do I feed my kids, how do I not get evicted? So what we have got to do is just demand that McConnell bring forth a clean House bill."

"I can't guarantee that it's gonna win in the Senate," the Vermont senator continued. "We need 60 votes. I think we got a damn good shot to win it. Bring it to the floor for a vote, Mitch."