At Long Last, a Stimulus Nears

  • Habemus stimulus? Congress appeared to be closing in on a deal last night, as Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, privately told Republican colleagues that he feared voter frustration could topple Georgia’s two incumbent senators next month if Congress didn’t pass another stimulus bill.

  • It’s been over eight months since the last piece of coronavirus stimulus legislation was signed into law. The ink wasn’t dry on that bill, finalized in late March, before many lawmakers, labor leaders and others began to argue that more aid was needed.

  • McConnell has mostly refused to negotiate, repeatedly putting off discussions and rebuffing even the White House’s occasional attempts to restart talks.

  • But now, with Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in need of a victory before the Jan. 5 runoff elections in Georgia, McConnell has indicated he is prepared to move forward.

  • He told senators on a private call yesterday that they shouldn’t plan on leaving Washington for the holidays until after this weekend, as he expects to need a few more days for lawmakers to finalize the deal and write legislative text.

  • On the call, McConnell said that Loeffler and Perdue were “getting hammered” for Congress’s failure to provide more pandemic assistance.

  • The draft legislation being discussed now includes funding for direct stimulus payments to Americans. Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, said yesterday that he anticipated the checks would be $600 to $700 per person, though some Democrats are pushing for a repeat of the $1,200 checks that went out in the spring.

  • The bill would not include the liability protections for businesses and schools that McConnell had sought to establish as a condition for talks, nor the steady funding for state, local and tribal governments that Democrats had called essential.

  • As Congress wrangles over the stimulus, leaders in one state have taken matters into their own hands. In New Mexico, $1,200 stimulus checks have begun to be sent out to roughly 130,000 unemployed residents after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a $330 million relief package last month that included aid for small businesses and direct payments to those who had lost work.

  • The federal stimulus bill is expected to include billions of dollars to support vaccine distribution, and this week hospital pharmacists have been discovering some good news: Many of the vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already been cleared for distribution, are filled with more than the allotted doses.

  • The Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that it would authorize pharmacists to use the extra doses left over after the first five — the amount expected to be contained in each vial.

  • Joe Biden has said that he will ask Americans to mask up for the first 100 days of his term as president. A mask mandate is supported by a wide majority of the country, but it’s still not universally popular.

  • One mayor in the heartland was forced to quite literally get out of dodge this week after passing a mask mandate. Joyce Warshaw, the mayor of Dodge City, Kan., said she had received such violent and threatening hate mail after signing a citywide mask mandate into law that she feared for her safety. So Warshaw resigned her office yesterday, a few weeks before the end of her one-year term.

  • One message read, “We’re coming to get you.” Warshaw said the word “murder” was used several times. “Our nation is seeing so much divisiveness and so much inappropriate bullying that is accepted, and it just worried me,” she said. “I don’t know if these people would act out on their words.”

  • Pressure built yesterday on Biden to choose Representative Deb Haaland as his secretary of the interior, as a rare consensus of progressives, moderates and even some Republicans expressed support for what would be a historic nomination.

  • Haaland, who was recently elected to a second term representing New Mexico’s First District in Congress, would be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department.

  • Progressive groups, tribal leaders and some of Haaland’s colleagues in Congress have been pressing Biden for weeks to pick her for the position, but Democratic leaders in the House had expressed concern about allowing Biden to recruit too many representatives from the Democratic caucus given its narrow majority.

  • Yesterday, leadership embraced Haaland’s candidacy. “Congresswoman Deb Haaland is one of the most respected and one of the best members of Congress I have served with,” Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, adding that she would be “an excellent choice” for interior secretary.

  • Some progressive groups have also put pressure on Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, who is retiring after 12 years in the Senate, to remove himself from contention for the cabinet job.

  • Biden is also considering a much less consensus-generating figure to serve in his administration: Diana Taylor, a Citigroup board member with deep ties to Wall Street.

  • Taylor has served as a managing director of Wolfensohn Fund Management and as the New York State banking superintendent under former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican. She is also the longtime romantic partner of Michael Bloomberg.

  • It’s not clear what role Biden would place Taylor in, but one of the positions for which she is under consideration is administrator of the Small Business Administration, according to people familiar with the selection process.

  • Progressives have expressed alarm at her potential selection, part of broader concerns about the lack of representation for the party’s left flank among Biden’s staff choices thus far.

  • “The progressive movement deserves a number of seats — important seats — in the Biden administration,” Senator Bernie Sanders, himself a possible contender for a cabinet post, recently told Axios. “Have I seen that at this point? I have not.”