Biden visits home town of Scranton to pitch huge investment agenda – as it happened

Last modified: 11: 59 PM GMT+0

Today's politics recap

  • Senate Republicans successfully blocked Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act from advancing, dealing another blow to Joe Biden’s hopes of enacting national voting rights legislation. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer criticized Republicans for once again using the filibuster to stymie voting rights legislation, while emphasizing that Democrats would not give up their fight. Schumer plans to bring the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act up for a vote “as soon as next week”.
  • The Senate Republicans’ move led to immediate calls for filibuster reform from progressive groups and voting rights activists. However, as of now, Schumer does not have the votes to alter or eliminate the filibuster, which allows Republicans to block legislation unless it has the support of 60 senators in the 50-50 chamber. Moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema remain opposed to filibuster reform, and Schumer needs the support of the entire Democratic caucus to move forward.
  • The White House outlined its plan to quickly administer coronavirus vaccine shots to children aged five to 11, once the Food and Drug Administration authorizes their use for that age group. Jeff Zients, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus response team, said the Biden administration expects the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make their decisions on authorizing vaccines for those children “in the next couple of weeks”.
  • Climate activists gathered at the White House and on Capitol Hill to demand robust climate provisions in Democrats’ reconciliation package. Manchin has called for eliminating the Clean Electricity Performance Program from the bill, sparking outrage among climate activists and experts, who say the program is the most important environmental policy in the legislation.
  • Biden pitched his Build Back better agenda in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Reflecting on the hardships exacerbated by the pandemic by a lack of high-speed internet access across the country, economic stagnancy and a lack of jobs, high utility bills – Biden touted the policies that could lift up low-income and middle class Americans.
  • The lockdown at Walter Reed was lifted, after officials secured the military campus using K-9 teams. Those at Walter Reed had previously been instructed to shelter in place after someone called in a bomb threat this morning.
  • The Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots for recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots. The agency is now allowing medical providers to boost older and high-risk individuals with any vaccine. Currently, boosters are recommended for people 65 and older, and younger adults with certain medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to Covid-19.

– Joan E Greve and Maanvi Singh

Updated

Backlog of cargo ships at southern California ports reaches an all-time high

Dani Anguiano in Los Angeles reports:

The backlog of cargo ships in southern California reached an all-time high this week as a supply chain crisis continues to overwhelm America’s busiest port complex.

On Tuesday more than 100 ships were waiting to unload thousands of containers outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The backlog has seen dozens of ships idling in the waters outside the ports for weeks, and the bottleneck is expected to continue into next year.

The Biden administration has pledged to expand port operations to address the mounting problems amid an overwhelming demand for imported consumer products and a shortage of trucks, drivers and warehouse workers.

“These issues go through the entire chain, from ship to shelf,” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, told ABC7. “That’s why we’re not just working with the ports. It’s the truckers, the rail companies, the operators and also those retail companies that are at the other end of those supply chains.”

The Biden administration announced last week that the port of Los Angeles would move to 24/7 operations to ease the backlog and that major companies, including Walmart, FedEx and UPS, would intensify operations to get goods shipped across the US faster. Meanwhile, the port of Long Beach had already been experimenting with a 24/7 pilot program. Union Pacific has expanded to 24/7 rail service at its San Pedro facility.

The White House is also reportedly considering deploying the national guard to help reduce the backlog, CNN reported.

Read more:

Among the Build Back Better plan’s many provisions: expanding Medicare to include oral coverage for millions of older and disabled Americans. Will it survive cuts?

Michael Sainato reports:

Dory Adams, 67, who lives outside Atlanta, was diagnosed with osteoradionecrosis due to radiation treatment she received in 1999 for oral cancer. Effectively, the radiation weakened the bone in her jaw.

“I have endured hours and hours of trauma and pain in the dental chair, and paid thousands of dollars, only to find out that I have lost my battle to osteoradionecrosis,” said Adams. “I live with pain every single day with every single bite. My jaw creaks and pops when I talk and chew. It constantly reminds me, relentlessly, that I am scarred.”

But the pain is not her only worry.

Since her cancer, Adams hasn’t been able to pay for health insurance to afford the care needs until she became eligible for Medicare. She now requires surgery to her jawbone, but the dental care after the surgery isn’t currently covered. Because of the concerns she has about the costs for the dental care, surgery and ICU hospital stay, she is delaying the surgery.

“Dental care is a quality-of-life issue. If I have this surgery to save my jaw only to end up with no teeth on my bottom jaw, how will that affect my quality of life? I’m so depressed lately that all I think about is death,” Adams added. “What am I going to do? I really don’t know. For now I will just take the meds, avoid difficult foods and try to take special care of what teeth I have left.”

She is one of about 24 million Americans with Medicare – nearly half of all Medicare beneficiaries in 2019 – who had no dental insurance coverage and could not afford to pay out-of-pocket for dental care. The same rate of Medicare beneficiaries did not visit a dentist in the past year, with Black, Hispanic, Native American and low-income Americans disproportionately affected.

Average costs for common dental procedures far exceed the average monthly benefits in social security many Medicare beneficiaries rely on as their sole or main source of income.

But part of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan could offer help – as long as it survives cuts wanted by centrist Democrats who want to reduce the legislation’s top-line $3.5tn price tag. The bill wants to expand Medicare to include dental coverage for millions of older and disabled Americans enrolled in the program, in addition to hearing and vision coverage.

Dental coverage would begin 1 January 2028, including preventative, basic and major dental treatments, including a full or partial set of dentures every five years. A 20% cost-sharing would be enacted for beneficiaries to cover preventive, screening and basic services, which would increase to 50% by 2032.

Senator Bernie Sanders has insisted the Medicare expansion is “non-negotiable”.

The majority of Americans support expanding Medicare to include dental care coverage. A poll of over 2,000 Americans conducted by CBS/YouGov in October found that 84% support federal funding to expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing coverage.

Read more:

Opposition from two moderate Democrats in the Senate – Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin – have forced the administration and party to consider cuts to key provisions of the plan.

A plan to offer all Americans access to two free years of community college is likely to get the axe, as is a clean energy program that Manchin – who has deep ties to coal, and the oil and gas industry – vehemently opposes. Lawmakers are also considering scaling back a program to send monthly payments to families with children.

Read more:

“What are we doing? This is the United States of America, dammit,” Biden said. “What are we doing?”

Reflecting on the hardships exacerbated by the pandemic by a lack of high-speed internet access across the country, economic stagnancy and a lack of jobs, high utility bills. Biden sped through all the provisions is omnibus reconciliation bill would include.

Here’s some of what the bill would include:

In his element, speaking from his hometown, Biden has begun with a very on-brand story about his love for Amtrak at the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton.

“Hello hello hello!” he greeted supporters. “It’s good to be home!”

In his element, the president then launched into a winding story about the good old days – mass at St. Paul’s, men having big breakfasts, and the sound advice he got from his dad.

Biden at the Electric City Trolley Museum with manager Wayne Hiller.
Biden at the Electric City Trolley Museum with manager Wayne Hiller. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

Updated

Biden in Scranton pitches Build Back Better agenda

Joe Biden is speaking in Scranton, Pennsylvania about his economic agenda.

With negotiations stalled on Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better reconciliation bill, the president is pitching his climate change, childcare, education and healthcare agenda directly to voters.

Happening Now: President Biden delivers remarks on his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better Agenda. https://t.co/I8BTTlxbly

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) October 20, 2021

FDA authorizes Moderna and J&J boosters, allowing for mix-and-match

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized booster shots for recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shot, and is allowing medical providers to boost older and high-risk individuals with any vaccine.

Currently, boosters are recommended for people 65 and older, and younger adults with certain medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“The available data suggest waning immunity in some populations who are fully vaccinated,” said Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner. “The availability of these authorized boosters is important for continued protection against Covid.”

Updated

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Maanvi Singh, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Senate Republicans successfully blocked Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act from advancing, dealing another blow to Joe Biden’s hopes of enacting national voting rights legislation. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer criticized Republicans for once again using the filibuster to stymie voting rights legislation, while emphasizing that Democrats would not give up their fight. Schumer plans to bring the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act up for a vote “as soon as next week”.
  • The Senate Republicans’ move led to immediate calls for filibuster reform from progressive groups and voting rights activists. However, as of now, Schumer does not have the votes to alter or eliminate the filibuster, which allows Republicans to block legislation unless it has the support of 60 senators in the 50-50 chamber. Moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema remain opposed to filibuster reform, and Schumer needs the support of the entire Democratic caucus to move forward.
  • The White House outlined its plan to quickly administer coronavirus vaccine shots to children aged five to 11, once the Food and Drug Administration authorizes their use for that age group. Jeff Zients, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus response team, said the Biden administration expects the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make their decisions on authorizing vaccines for those children “in the next couple of weeks”.
  • Climate activists gathered at the White House and on Capitol Hill to demand robust climate provisions in Democrats’ reconciliation package. Manchin has called for eliminating the Clean Electricity Performance Program from the bill, sparking outrage among climate activists and experts, who say the program is the most important environmental policy in the legislation.
  • The lockdown at Walter Reed was lifted, after officials secured the military campus using K-9 teams. Those at Walter Reed had previously been instructed to shelter in place after someone called in a bomb threat this morning.

Maanvi will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Progressive groups and voting rights advocates are already fiercely criticizing Senate Republicans for blocking the Freedom to Vote Act, and they are demanding filibuster reform to advance the bill.

“The attack on voting rights is not a mistake — it’s intentional. Leaders are getting away with silencing the voices of voters who don’t look like them by rigging the rules to stay in power,” said Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP.

“Right now, the stakes are at their highest. It’s time for Congress and the administration to make voting rights legislation their utmost priority. We cannot wait a minute longer.”

Christina Harvey, the executive director of the progressive advocacy group Stand Up America, specifically called on Democratic senator Joe Manchin to reconsider his stance on the filibuster after the vote.

“There is no compromise voting rights bill that will appease Senate Republicans, and today’s filibuster made that clear. Senator Manchin tried. It didn’t work,” Harvey said.

“Now, we’re out of time. The only way to pass comprehensive voting rights legislation and safeguard our freedom to vote is to end the Jim Crow filibuster.”

Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, added, “We can’t let Senate dysfunction stop urgent action to protect the right to vote, ban gerrymandering, and reform a corrupt campaign finance system.”

'We're not giving up,' Harris says after Republicans block Freedom to Vote Act

After presiding over the procedural vote on the Freedom to Vote Act, Kamala Harris briefly spoke to reporters about Democrats’ path forward on voting rights.

“We’re not going to give up. We’re not deterred, but there’s still a lot of work to do, and I think it’s really a sad day,” the vice-president said.

.@VP Harris on voting rights legislation: "We're not going to give up. We're not deterred. But there's still a lot of work to do." pic.twitter.com/gv4NtbM1w3

— CSPAN (@cspan) October 20, 2021

Joe Biden has named Harris as the administration’s point person on voting rights, but Democrats’ proposals keep getting blocked in the Senate due to Republican filibusters.

It seems highly unlikely that Democrats will be able to advance voting rights legislation until the filibuster is amended or eliminated, and they do not yet have the votes to do so.

As the Guardian’s Sam Levine notes, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer seemed to issue some thinly veiled criticism of the filibuster after Republicans blocked the Freedom to Vote Act from advancing.

“What we saw from Republicans today is not how the Senate is supposed to work,” Schumer said in his remarks after the procedural vote failed.

Schumer seems to be more directly hinting at changing filibuster rules. Voting rights are different than other issues the senate deals with he says. "What we saw from Republicans today is not how the senate is supposed to work," he says.

— Sam Levine (@srl) October 20, 2021

“This is supposed the world’s greatest deliberative body, where we debate, forge compromise, amend and pass legislation to help the American people. That is the legacy of this great chamber,” the Democratic leader added.

“The Senate needs to be restored to its rightful status as the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

But as of now, it does not appear that the more moderate members of the Democratic caucus, such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, would support any proposal to eliminate or alter the filibuster.

Because of the 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats need all members of their caucus to support such a rule change before it can be approved.

Senate will soon vote on John Lewis Voting Rights Act, Schumer says

After Senate Republicans successfully blocked Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act, majority leader Chuck Schumer said he will soon bring another voting rights bill up for a vote.

“The fight to protect our democracy is far from over in the United States Senate,” Schumer said. “As soon as next week, I’m prepared to bring the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act here to the floor.”

.@SenSchumer: "Let there be no mistake, Senate Republicans blocking debate today is an implicit endorsement of the horrid new voter suppression and election subversion laws pushed in conservative states across the country." pic.twitter.com/Qwhmt4VtmI

— CSPAN (@cspan) October 20, 2021

Schumer sharply criticized Republicans for blocking the Freedom to Vote Act, arguing they were effectively endorsing new voting laws that represent “a direct attack on our fundamental liberties as American citizens”.

“Let there be no mistake, Senate Republicans blocking debate today is an implicit endorsement of the horrid new voter suppression and election subversion laws pushed in conservative states across the country,” Schumer said.

Of course, unless moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema come around to the idea of eliminating or altering the filibuster, Senate Republicans will likely continue to block all voting rights bills from moving forward.

Senate Republicans again blocked a sweeping voting rights bill on Wednesday, a move that will significantly increase pressure on Democrats to do away with the filibuster, a Senate rule that has stymied Joe Biden’s most significant priorities in Congress.

The vote was 51-49 against proceeding. Because the filibuster requires 60 votes to proceed, Republicans succeeded in blocking the measure.

The bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, would impose significant new guardrails on the American democratic process and amount to the most significant overhaul of American elections in a generation. It would require every state to automatically register voters at motor vehicle agencies, offer 15 consecutive days of early voting and allow anyone to request a mail-in ballot.

It would also set new standards to ensure voters are not wrongfully removed from the voter rolls, protect election officials against partisan interference and set out clear alternatives people who lack ID to vote can use at the polls.

It also included a slew of new campaign finance regulations and outlaws the pervasive practice of manipulating district lines for severe partisan advantage, a process called gerrymandering.

Republicans block Democrats' Freedom to Vote Act

It is now official: Republicans have successfully blocked Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act, dealing another blow to Joe Biden’s hopes of enacting national voting rights legislation.

The final vote was 49 to 51, and Democrats needed 60 votes to start debate on the bill. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer changed his vote to “no” before the vote closed in order to give him the option to bring the bill up again later.

Not invoked, 49-51: Motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to Cal. #125 S.2747 Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act.

— Senate Cloakroom (@SenateCloakroom) October 20, 2021

The result of the vote will likely enrage voting rights activists and the president, who described Republicans’ opposition to the bill as “unconscionable” in a statement sent as the Senate vote got underway.

“The right to vote – to vote freely, to vote fairly, and to have your vote counted – is fundamental,” Biden said. “It should be simple and straightforward. Let there be a debate and let there be a vote.”

The vote will almost certainly increase pressure on Senate Democrats to alter or eliminate the Senate filibuster, which gives Republicans the ability to block legislation unless it can attract 60 votes in the 50-50 chamber.

Updated

It looks like the Freedom to Vote Act will be blocked by Senate Republicans, but the White House has issued a statement of administration policy formally recommending the bill’s passage.

“Democracy is in peril, here, in America. The right to vote – a sacred right in this country – is under assault,” the new statement from the Office of Management and Budget says.

“The Freedom to Vote Act would set common-sense national baselines for voting in Federal elections. It would reform redistricting to curtail the partisan gerrymandering that distorts our democracy. It would modernize our election systems, protect election workers, and make the process more secure against efforts to undermine the will of the people.”

Applauding the Senate Democrats who have worked to craft the legislation, the statement adds, “As the bill moves forward, the Administration will continue to work with Congress to ensure that it achieves lasting reform consistent with Congress’ broad constitutional authority to strengthen our democracy.”

The vote is still open, but Republicans now have the votes to block Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act from advancing.

Democrats need 60 votes to start debate on the bill, but as of now, 42 Republicans have already voted against doing so.

The vote remains open, so the result is not yet official, but it appears like another Democratic voting rights bill has become a victim of the Senate filibuster.

Biden implores Senate to advance Freedom to Vote Act

As the Senate holds a procedural vote on the Freedom to Vote Act, Joe Biden has issued a statement imploring the upper chamber to advance the voting rights bill.

“The United States Senate needs to act to protect the sacred constitutional right to vote, which is under unrelenting assault by proponents of the Big Lie and Republican Governors, Secretaries of State, Attorneys-General, and state legislatures across the nation,” the president said in a new statement.

“It is urgent. Democracy – the very soul of America – is at stake.”

The sacred right to vote is under unrelenting assault across the country — and the Senate needs to take action to protect it. Senate Republicans need to allow a debate and let there be a vote on the Freedom to Vote Act. Democracy — the very soul of America — is at stake.

— President Biden (@POTUS) October 20, 2021

The vote is expected to fail because Democrats need 10 Senate Republicans to join them in supporting the bill in order to advance the legislation, which is considered virtually impossible.

In his statement, Biden described Republicans’ refusal to support voting rights legislation as “unconscionable”.

“The right to vote – to vote freely, to vote fairly, and to have your vote counted – is fundamental,” Biden said. “It should be simple and straightforward. Let there be a debate and let there be a vote.”

Updated

Senate holds procedural vote on Democrats' Freedom to Vote Act

The Senate is now holding a procedural vote on Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act, the party’s latest effort to enact national voting rights legislation.

Democrats need 60 votes to start debate on the bill, which is a significant hurdle in a Senate that is evenly divided 50-50 between the two parties.

NOW VOTING: Motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to Cal. #125, S.2747, Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act.

— Senate Cloakroom (@SenateCloakroom) October 20, 2021

Given Republicans’ strong opposition to the bill (and Democrats’ other voting rights bills that came before it), the vote is expected to fail.

If Republicans do succeed in once again blocking a voting rights bill, Democrats will likely face increased pressure to eliminate or alter the Senate filibuster.

The blog will be watching the vote closely, so stay tuned.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus praised the recent developments in the negotiations over the reconciliation bill, but the group made clear that a final deal has not yet been reached.

“Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to by everyone,” the CPC said on Twitter. “We’re fighting for the best legislation for working families across the country. That will always be our goal.”

There is progress for a final Build Back Better Act, thanks to @POTUS' leadership. But let's be clear:

Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to by everyone.

We're fighting for the best legislation for working families across the country. That will always be our goal.

— Progressive Caucus (@USProgressives) October 20, 2021

Members of the CPC met with Joe Biden yesterday to discuss the reconciliation bill and the demands from moderate Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin to narrow the legislation’s scope.

According to reports, the president indicated to the progressive lawmakers that some of the bill’s provisions, including a proposal to make community college free for two years, are not likely to be included in the final bill.

Senator Joe Manchin strongly denied a report that he is considering leaving the Democratic party depending on the outcome of the negotiations over the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package.

“I can’t control rumors, and it’s bullshit -- bullshit spelled with a B, U, L, L, capital ‘B,’” Manchin told reporters on Capitol Hill.

MANCHIN to @burgessev and me on the report he is threatening to leave the Democratic Party if his demands are not met on infrastructure: “I can’t control rumors and it’s bullshit, bullshit spelled with a B, U, L, L, capital ‘B’”: pic.twitter.com/ex8iHMIiSs

— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) October 20, 2021

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key holdout in passing the Biden administration’s flagship $3.5tn spending package, recently told associates that he is considering leaving the Democratic party if the bill is not reduced to $1.75tn, according to Mother Jones.

Manchin along with other key Democratic centrists are at the center of negotiations to reduce the key financial package at the center of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda ahead of a self-imposed 31 October deadline, but has opposed initiatives in the policy that would work to fight climate change.

Manchin allegedly told his associates that he would leave the party via a two step plan: first by sending a letter to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, removing himself from his senate leadership as vice chairman of the Senate Democrats’ policy and communications committee. He would then wait to see if that had any impact on the bill negotiations before changing his voter registration to independent, Mother Jones further reported.

This is what Guardian writer Arwa Mahdawi had to say on Manchin’s opposition to the key legislation earlier this month.

Updated

The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has lifted a “shelter in place” order following a bomb threat this morning.

1315, 20OCT21: UPDATE: The installation commanding officer has lifted the shelter in place for all locations effective immediately and has authorized the opening of Gates 1 and 3 for outbound traffic only.

— Naval Support Activity Bethesda (@nsabethesda) October 20, 2021

“The installation commanding officer has lifted the shelter in place for all locations effective immediately and has authorized the opening of Gates 1 and 3 for outbound traffic only,” tweeted the Naval Support Activity Bethesda, the military campus that hosts Walter Reed.

The Naval Support Activity Bethesda said officials had received a threatening phone call this morning, causing its campus to go into lockdown while the threat was under investigation via K-9 teams.

All personnel on campus were previously instructed to shelter in place. The campus gates were closed to non-emergency traffic and the public was told to avoid the area.

1/2 - 0925, 20OCT21: At approximately 8:45 a.m., the installation received a phone call from an anonymous source stating there is a bomb at or near Building 10. Security personnel have responded to the scene.

— Naval Support Activity Bethesda (@nsabethesda) October 20, 2021

Updated

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • The White House outlined its plan to quickly administer coronavirus vaccine shots to children aged five to 11, once the Food and Drug Administration authorizes their use for that age group. Jeff Zients, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus response team, said the Biden administration expects the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make their decisions on authorizing vaccines for those children “in the next couple of weeks”.
  • Climate activists are gathering at the White House and on Capitol Hill to demand robust climate provisions in Democrats’ reconciliation package. Moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has called for eliminating the Clean Electricity Performance Program from the bill, sparking outrage among climate activists and experts, who say the program is the most important environmental policy in the legislation.
  • The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center was on lockdown this morning, after its campus received a bomb threat. Those at Walter Reed were instructed to shelter in place, and officials have been lifting the order building by building as they secure the campus.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated

Kamala Harris was on Capitol Hill today to cast a tie-breaking vote on advancing the nomination of Catherine Lhamon to serve as assistant education secretary for civil rights.

While at the Capitol, the vice-president was asked for her thoughts on the negotiations over the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package.

Harris told NBC News, “We had really good conversations yesterday. They were very productive; they were very candid. And I’m feeling very optimistic about the path forward.”

I asked VP @KamalaHarris whether she’s optimistic an agreement can be reached on BBB by next week:

“You know, we had really good conversations yesterday, they were very productive, they were very candid, and I’m feeling very optimistic about the path forward.” pic.twitter.com/t2RIBxOdVo

— Julie Tsirkin (@JulieNBCNews) October 20, 2021

Harris joined Joe Biden yesterday for his two meetings with congressional Democrats to discuss the bills. The first meeting was with progressive lawmakers, and the second was with centrist Democrats in Congress.

Democrats generally voiced optimism after the meetings, but it remains unclear whether they can reach an agreement on the framework of the bill by the end of the month.

As a side note: Harris’ vote this morning marks her tenth tie-breaking Senate vote as vice-president. In comparison, Mike Pence cast 13 tie-breaking votes over his four years as Donald Trump’s vice-president, and Harris has only been in office for nine months. (And Biden cast no tie-breaking votes over his eight years as Barack Obama’s vice-president.)

In the tumult of negotiations over the most consequential climate legislation ever proposed in the US, there is growing scrutiny of the fossil fuel industry connections of the man poised to tear down the core of the bill – the West Virginia senator Joe Manchin.

Manchin, a centrist Democrat, has objected to key provisions of a multitrillion-dollar reconciliation bill that would slash planet-heating emissions and help the US, and the world, to avert catastrophic climate breakdown. In a finely balanced Senate, Democrats need all 50 of their senators to vote for the bill, with no Republicans willing to vote for the climate measures.

The legislation would steadily retire the coal industry that once formed the backbone of the West Virginia economy and continues to provide ample financial support to Manchin.

In the current electoral cycle, Manchin has received more in political donations from the oil and gas industry than any other senator, more than double the second largest recipient. He is also the No 1 beneficiary of donations from the coal mining sector, leads the way in money accepted from gas pipeline operators, and is sixth in the ranking of senatorial donations from electricity utilities.

This industry largesse has led to accusations that the senator has been unduly influenced by the companies that have helped stoke the climate crisis. Manchin’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Read the Guardian’s full report:

Updated

House speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked whether she believed Democrats could reach an agreement on the framework of the reconciliation package by the end of the week.

“We have met every milestone along the way in our timetable, and we will be where we need to be in order to reach our goal,” Pelosi said in her rather vague response.

Pelosi on if a framework can be reached by end of week: “Let’s see…we have met every milestone along the way in our timetable…”
& on community college & paid leave programs being scaled back said: “When I saw it on TV, I thought I’d never see it before...I thought news to me.” pic.twitter.com/ZeSS8UrdHM

— Jason Donner (@jason_donner) October 20, 2021

When asked about reports that free community college and paid family leave programs may be scaled back in the final bill, Pelosi said that was “news to me”.

Joe Biden reportedly told progressive lawmakers yesterday that certain initiatives were likely to be downsized or eliminated in the final bill, as Democrats try to bring down the proposal’s price tag to appease moderates like Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Climate activists have gathered on Capitol Hill to demand that Democrats’ reconciliation package effectively address the climate crisis.

One protester with Greenpeace carried cutouts of Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and moderate Democratic senator Joe Manchin, portraying Schumer as Manchin’s puppet.

There was another cutout representing Exxon Mobil to portray Manchin as a puppet of the oil and gas industry.

More at the Capitol.

Greenpeace is here with this portraying Schumer as Manchin’s puppet and Manchin as Exxon’s puppet.

(Note: a large Exxon puppet arm was not allowed by US Cap Police. And a Biden puppet is nearby but the person could only hold one, so it’s Schumer.) pic.twitter.com/2VBLGJHRvK

— Lisa Desjardins (@LisaDNews) October 20, 2021

Manchin has pushed for scaling back the climate provisions in the reconciliation package, sparking outrage among progressives inside and outside of Congress.

Manchin has specifically called for eliminating the Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would reward utilities that make changes to rely more on renewable energy sources while penalizing companies that fail to do so.

Experts have warned that CEPP is the most important climate provision in the reconciliation package, and the bill will be much less effective without it.

More than a dozen Democratic senators have requested for paid family leave to remain in the Biden administration’s flagship $3.5tn spending package, reports the Associated Press.

In a letter sent to Biden, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House speaker Nancy Pelosi of California today, 15 senators, with moderate and progressive leanings, demanded for paid family leave to remain in the final version of the $3.5tn bill, a package that lawmakers are working to scale down.

“The pandemic has exposed an acute emergency on top of an ongoing, chronic caregiving crisis for working people and employers alike,” wrote the group in the letter. “We cannot emerge from this crisis and remain one of the only countries in the world with no form of national paid leave.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who took lead on the letter, told AP that while there is widespread support for paid family leave to be included in the final bill, she and other Democrats wanted to make sure the initiative wasn’t sacrificed to scale the bill down to $2tn.

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider the nomination of former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel for US ambassador to Japan amid pushback about Emanuel’s role in covering up the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

During prepared remarks to the committee, Emanuel did not mention his involvement in the coverup of McDonald’s murder, instead discussing his priority to deepen an alliance between the US and Japan, reported the Associated Press.

McDonald was killed after being shot 16 times while running away from police officers. Emmanuel’s confirmation comes on the seventh anniversary of McDonald’s death.

Emanuel, who served as Chicago’s mayor for two terms, has been a controversial pick to the ambassadorship position. Progressives democrats and activists have argued that Emanuel’s handling of McDonald should disqualify him from assuming the role, who delayed releasing footage of the police killing while he was running for a second term as Chicago mayor and only did so after being mandated by a state court. The released footage resulted in protests across the nation and resulted in former officer Jason Van Dyke being convicted for second degree murder.

“We need justice for Ahmaud Arbery and Laquan McDonald. Confirming Rahm Emanuel a complacent man in the face of Black people dying, should be improper representation of this country,” tweeted Democratic congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York about the hearing. “We need justice on every level for every Black person that has died in the hands of the system.”

We need justice for Ahmaud Arbery and Laquan McDonald.

Confirming Rahm Emanuel a complacent man in the face of Black people dying, should be improper representation of this country.

We need justice on every level for every Black person that has died in the hands of the system.

— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) October 20, 2021

When asked about Emanuel’s nomination amid stiff criticism, press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden’s “commitment to police reform speaks for itself.”

“At the same time, he selects and has nominated a range of ambassadors to serve the United States overseas because of their qualifications, whether it’s from business, public service, or other reasons that would make them qualified for these positions,” Psaki said.

Updated

Joe Biden met privately with around 20 centrist and progressive Democratic senators yesterday in hopes of reworking and passing his version of his $3.5tn spending package, reports the Associated Press.

In meetings yesterday evening, Biden described a $2tn scaled-down version of the social care package with at least $500 billion allocated to fight climate change and provide money for free pre-kindergarten, health care, paid family leave and middle-class child tax credits.

As Democrats appear ready to abandon hopes of passing the larger $3.5tn package, several programs will likely be cut or significantly reduced including tuition free community college, ways for undocumented immigrants to receive legal citizenship, and a previous energy plan that was the focal strategy for Biden’s attempt at combatting climate change, with details shared by those familiar with the conversation who were granted anonymity.

According to press secretary Jen Psaki, Biden felt “more confident” following yesterday’s meetings.

“There was broad agreement that there is urgency in moving forward over the next several days and that the window for finalizing a package is closing,” Psaki said.

Sunrise Movement activists fast to demand Congress pass climate action programs

Five activists with the climate youth organization, Sunrise Movement, have begun fasting in front of the White House in protest today, demanding that Congress pass climate crisis action programs in the Biden administration’s $3.5tn social care package, a key part of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, reported the New Republic.

Movement activists are ready to put everything on the line. @POTUS must choose between our future and fossil fuel CEOs. Meet at 9am at the White House tomorrow. #NoClimateNoDeal https://t.co/asPr8xsUIC

— Hunger Strike 4 Climate Justice (@HungerStr1ke) October 20, 2021

“Movement activists are ready to put everything on the line. @POTUS must choose between our future and fossil fuel CEOs. Meet at 9am at the White House tomorrow,” tweeted the group yesterday.

Protestors made the decision to strike after the New York Times broke the news on Friday that Democrats were considering getting rid of the Clean Electricity Performance Program, an initiative within the $3.5tn proposed legislation that would incentivize utility companies to increase their use of renewable energy and switch from fossil fuels - chiefly because of opposition from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The fasting strategy is one action in a longer week of protests attempting to get key Democrats to support the legislation. Protestors have also previously protested next to Manchin’s yacht.

Sunrise activists also slept outside of Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona’s office yesterday, calling on her to support the bill with its climate elements included.

We’re spending the night outside Sen. Sinema’s office to demand she fight for us, not her donors! #NoClimateNoDeal #SinemaSleepover pic.twitter.com/1cA7k8ZZ8T

— Sunrise Movement Tempe 🌅 (@SunriseTempe) October 19, 2021

Updated

The House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, which voted last night to pursue a criminal contempt charge against Steve Bannon for defying a subpoena from the committee, has said that other top aides to Donald Trump are still in discussions – sort of – about subpoenas served to them.

Committee chair Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, has talked about former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, deputy chief Dan Scavino and defense department aide Kash Patel this morning.

Jan. 6 committee chair Bennie Thompson says that “our people are still talking” to Kash Patel, Dan Scavino, and Mark Meadows. They’re “somewhat” cooperating, he says

— Nicholas Wu (@nicholaswu12) October 20, 2021

As Hugo Lowell reported for Guardian US, the select committee had issued a bevy of subpoenas to some of Trump’s closest advisers.

Last night it approved the contempt of Congress citation against Bannon unanimously, sending the report to the Democratic-controlled House, which is expected tomorrow to authorize the panel to go to court to punish Bannon for his noncompliance.

“It is essential that we get Mr Bannon’s factual and complete testimony in order to get a full accounting of the violence of January 6th and its causes,” said Thompson.

“Mr Bannon will comply with our investigation or he will face the consequences,” he said. “We cannot allow anyone to stand in the way of the select committee as we work to get to the facts. The stakes are too high.”

Members on the select committee took the aggressive step against Bannon to sound a warning to Trump White House officials and others connected to the Capitol attack that defying subpoenas would carry grave consequences, according to a source on the panel.

Bennie Thompson.
Bennie Thompson. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

It will remain to be seen if Meadows, Scavino and Patel avoid similar action.

Updated

Walter Reed on lockdown following bomb threat

The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is on lockdown this morning, after its campus received a bomb threat.

Naval Support Activity Bethesda, the military campus that includes Walter Reed, said officials received a threatening phone call about an hour ago.

1/2 - 0925, 20OCT21: At approximately 8:45 a.m., the installation received a phone call from an anonymous source stating there is a bomb at or near Building 10. Security personnel have responded to the scene.

— Naval Support Activity Bethesda (@nsabethesda) October 20, 2021

“At approximately 8:45 a.m., the installation received a phone call from an anonymous source stating there is a bomb at or near Building 10. Security personnel have responded to the scene,” NSA Bethesda said on Twitter.

“The base is on lockdown. All personnel should shelter in place. All gates are closed to non-emergency traffic. The public is asked to avoid the area.”

It’s worth noting that the Biden administration’s plan to administer coronavirus vaccine shots to children aged 5 to 11 includes an educational campaign.

According to the statement issued by the White House this morning, the department of health and human services will launch “a national public education campaign to reach parents and guardians with accurate and culturally-responsive information about the vaccine and the risks that COVID-19 poses to children”.

As part of those efforts, government officials will coordinate with local leaders at schools, churches and health departments to better convey accurate vaccine information to the public.

Vaccines are already available to children aged 12 or older in the US, but American parents have been somewhat hesitant to vaccinate their children.

According to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 46% of children aged 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated. Among children who are 16 or 17 years old, the vaccination rate is slightly higher, at 54%.

The White House coronavirus response team held a briefing this morning to outline the Biden administration’s plan to distribute coronavirus vaccines to children between the ages of 5 and 11.

Jeff Zients, the response team coordinator, said he expected the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make their decisions on authorizing vaccines for those children “in the next couple of weeks”.

“We expect the FDA and CDC’s decision on Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 in the next couple of weeks … Should the FDA and CDC authorize the vaccine, we will be ready to get shots in arms.”

— WH COVID Response Coordinator Jeff Zients pic.twitter.com/UkIjbDzWw7

— The Recount (@therecount) October 20, 2021

An FDA advisory panel will meet next week to discuss Pfizer’s application to make a version of its coronavirus vaccine available to children in that age group. A CDC panel will then convene the following week.

“We know millions of parents have been waiting waiting for Covid-19 vaccine for kids in this age group,” Zients said. “And should the FDA and CDC authorize the vaccine, we will be ready to get shots in arms.”

White House outlines plan to vaccinate children aged five to 11

Greetings from Washington, live blog readers.

The Food and Drug Administration has not yet authorized any coronavirus vaccines for children between the ages of five and 11, but the Biden administration is already taking steps to ensure vaccines can be quickly administered once that approval comes through.

The White House announced a plan today “to ensure that, if a vaccine is authorized for children ages five and 11, it is quickly distributed and made conveniently and equitably available to families across the country”.

We expect the FDA and CDC’s decision on Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5-11 in the next few weeks and have put together a plan to ensure that vaccines for this age group are available, easy & convenient, should the FDA & CDC authorize the vaccine. https://t.co/o4eX8N2F8e

— White House COVID-19 Response Team (@WHCOVIDResponse) October 20, 2021

According to the White House, the US already has enough vaccine supply for the 28 million American children in that age group. Pfizer has already created a specific vaccine dose and formula for these children as well.

“Nationwide, more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care provider sites will provide vaccinations for children, in addition to tens of thousands of other provider locations that serve children, including pharmacies, children’s hospitals, and community health centers,” the White House said in its statement.

Of course, parents with young children still need to wait on the FDA approval, but that could occur in a matter of weeks.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Contributors

Maanvi Singh (now) and Joan E Greve (earlier)

The GuardianTramp

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