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How the 50-50 Senate limits Democratic ambitions

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WASHINGTON — The worst-kept secret in Washington is that President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package remains on track for passage, and that Republicans have been unable to find a successful message against it.

At least so far.

The other poorly-kept secret is that any one Senate Democrat has the ability to torpedo a Biden policy proposal or nominee — like when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., announced Friday that he wasn’t supporting Biden OMB pick Neera Tanden. (And this morning, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also said she was opposing Tanden.)

That’s the fundamental reality of the Democratic-controlled (barely) 50-50 Senate.

Where there is 100 percent Democratic consensus — on pandemic relief, on nominees, maybe infrastructure, maybe modest Obamacare fixes — Senate Democrats will usually have the votes for passage.

Especially when they can avoid a GOP filibuster (like when using budget reconciliation).

But when there’s not 100 percent Democratic consensus — on Tanden or a $15-per hour minimum wage — Democrats won’t have the votes.

It’s really that simple.

Repeating the “Big Lie”

Here’s another simple political reality to remember: Joe Biden won November’s presidential election.

Fair and square — with no instances of widespread voter fraud.

But Republicans are still having a difficult time admitting that reality.

Here was House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., on Sunday:

ABC: “I asked you, is [Biden] the legitimate president of the United States, and do you concede that this election was not stolen? Very simple question. Please just answer it.”

Scalise: “Look, once the electors are counted, yes, he’s the legitimate president. But if you’re going to ignore the fact that there were states that did not follow their own state legislatively set laws, that’s the issue at heart, that millions of people still are not happy with and don’t want to see happen again.”

And just look at some of the panel discussions at the upcoming CPAC confab, which begins later this week:

“Protecting Elections Part 2: Other Culprits: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence.”

“Protecting Elections Part 3: The Left Pulled the Strings, Covered It Up, and Even Admits It.”

“Did Your Vote Count? Ask the Experts.”

It’s all advancing the untruth that the 2020 election wasn’t fair and square.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

28,223,342: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 204,518 more than Friday morning.)

501,092: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 5,800 more than Friday morning.)

56,159: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus in the United States.

344.4 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

63,090,634: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

18,865,319: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

66: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

About 10 million: The number of Texans without access to safe drinking water.

3.5 million: How many bottles of water have been distributed in the state so far.

More than $1.3 billion: The damages sought by Dominion Voting Systems in the company’s defamation suit against MyPillow’s Mike Lindell.

Biden’s day

At 12:05 p.m. ET, President Biden makes an announcement on small business. At 6:00 p.m. ET, he delivers remarks on the lives lost due to the coronavirus, and he participates in a candle-lighting ceremony. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds her briefing at 12:30 p.m. ET, while the White House’s Covid team talks to reporters at 3:00 p.m. ET.

Merrick Garland finally gets his hearing

President Biden’s pick for attorney general, Merrick Garland, will testify today in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And based on excerpts from his opening statement released over the weekend, Garland will stress the Department of Justice’s civil rights record.

“Celebrating DOJ’s 150th year reminds us of the origins of the Department, which was founded during Reconstruction, in the aftermath of the Civil War, to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The first Attorney General appointed by President Grant to head the new Department led it in a concerted battle to protect black voting rights from the violence of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan,” Garland is slated to say.

He’ll add, “150 years after the Department’s founding, battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions also remains central to its mission.”

While Garland’s confirmation isn’t truly in doubt, NBC’s Pete Williams and Julia Ainsley report that Garland will face tough questions regarding investigations of Biden’s son and former President Trump’s actions.

MTP Compressed

Miss “Meet the Press” on Sunday? You can catch up here. Dr. Anthony Fauci and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten discussed the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide struggle to reopen schools. Former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) talked about how the power crisis in his home state has put small government principles in the spotlight amidst the Republican Party’s struggle to define itself in the post-Trump era.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Joe Biden is upending the Trump administration’s approach to vaccinations.

Biden will announce changes to the PPP program aimed at better aiding small and minority-owned businesses.

A new forecast from the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects tough times ahead for those in occupations that require the lowest levels of education.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he won’t back Trump in 2024.

Trump is expected to speak at CPAC on February 28.

The impeachment effort may be over, but the legal push to hold Trump and other officials accountable for false claims of election fraud is going strong. (And federal authorities are also looking into figures like Roger Stone and Alex Jones for their role in the Jan. 6 riot.)

The fallout from the winter storm in Texas continues, with anger increasing toward Gov. Greg Abbott.

A former Trump aide is ramping up for a primary challenge to Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who voted for Trump’s impeachment.



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Top private law firms plan ‘SWAT teams’ to fight voting laws in court

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First, it was the businesses. Now, it’s the bar.

More than a dozen of the nation’s top law firms have committed to joining forces in a new effort to challenge voting restrictions across the country, a move that adds legal might to the corporate pressure campaign opposing Republican-led attempts to overhaul elections in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s loss.

Brad Karp, chairman of law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and one of the effort’s leaders, said Monday that 16 firms have signed on so far, including his own. The lawyers would act like “SWAT teams” for legal action, he added. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale School of Management professor who is working to help mobilize corporate America against the restrictions, described the legal coalition as an “army of election law experts ready to dispatch at a moment’s notice.”

The group came together from conversations between major law firms about publicly taking a stand against restrictive voting laws like the one enacted by Georgia last month as well as bills under consideration in a number of states, including Texas, Arizona and Florida.

“I believe it is critically important for the private bar, first, to send a powerful, unified message to government officials that it is unacceptable to make voting harder, not easier, for all eligible voters,” Karp told NBC News. “Supporting the right of all eligible voters to cast ballots for candidates of their choosing is central to our democracy and should be embraced by all Americans, regardless of their political affiliation.”

Sixty-five law firms, meanwhile, signed on to a statement first reported Monday that urges elected officials to prioritize voting access. The list of signatories includes leaders from Perkins Coie, Davis Polk & Wardwell and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, as well as Paul, Weiss, according to The American Lawyer, a legal publication.

“Making voting easier, not harder, for all eligible voters should be the goal of every elected official. Election laws that impose unnecessary obstacles and barriers on the right to vote and that disenfranchise underrepresented groups represent a significant step backwards for all Americans,” the statement said.

Of those 65 firms, Karp said, 16 committed to mobilizing manpower.

The legal effort, which he expects will expand to include more firms, would see thousands of lawyers partner with the advocates and attorneys who typically challenge election laws in the states.Karp said the group is planning for a multi-year effort, with a presence in as many states as needed.

Republicans, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, have argued that major changes are needed to restore trust in American elections after Trump spent months pushing the lie that one was stolen from him. More than 350 restrictive voting bills are under consideration in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. By all official accounts, the 2020 election was secure and the results accurate. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and the president’s legal efforts to overturn the results failed in courtrooms around the country.

Corporations began speaking out against the Republican-led efforts late last month, after Kemp signed a sweeping overhaul into law in Georgia, a state President Joe Biden flipped blue for the first time in decades. Major Georgia-based companies like Delta and Coca-Cola sharply criticized the newly enacted law, with Delta’s CEO denouncing it as “based on a lie,” after months of prodding by activists in the state.

A letter from Black business leaders — published in a full-page ad in The New York Times and signed by more than 70 Black business executives — helped spur more than 200 corporate leaders to speak out and in some cases act, advocates told NBC News. Major League Baseball announced that it was moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest.

Other corporate giants singled out restrictive proposals under consideration in Texas’s Republican-controlled state legislature for particular condemnation, while on Monday, Georgia lost its first film production over the law.

Republicans have pushed back.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned corporate America to “stay out of politics” before softening his stance a day later, saying: “I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are. My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill,” referring to Georgia’s recently enacted law.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, said that the corporate response was “nonsense” and that American Airlines’ CEO should “go away” after the airline denounced a GOP-sponsored bill under consideration in Texas, where it is headquartered.

More than 120 chief executives and senior leaders, attorneys and experts joined a Zoom call Saturday to plot next moves, NBC News previously reported. The private-sector leaders discussed everything from issuing additional public statements, pulling investments from states passing restrictions and getting involved in voting rights-related legal action.



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Ohio Republican Senate candidate running as a Trump ally once called him a ‘maniac’

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CLEVELAND — As a Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno hews close to former President Donald Trump’s brand.

The car dealer and blockchain technology entrepreneur from the Cleveland area presents himself in much the same outsider’s vein. And last month Moreno submitted himself to what has been described as a “Hunger Games”-like competition for Trump’s support during a private meeting he and three rivals had with the former president in Florida.

But five years ago, Moreno wanted nothing to do with then-candidate Trump as the New York real estate tycoon and reality TV star romped his way to the Republican nomination and White House.

Moreno, according to emails obtained by NBC News, bashed Trump as a “lunatic” and “maniac” when corresponding with a national Republican fundraising consultant seeking donations. Moreno said he would, in an upcoming meeting with the Pope, ask “for a convention miracle” in which then-House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida “emerge as the saviors of the Republican Party.”

And he suggested he would stop donating to the national party if Trump became its leader.

“I am a hard core true believer in the party! But … If Donald Trump is nominated, I will consider that a hostile take over and no longer associate myself with THAT, new GOP,” Moreno wrote in a March 2016 exchange, responding to a request that he meet with then-Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus during a visit to Cleveland. Moreno noted that he would be out of state at the time.

“I completely get the position Reince is in and he is doing the best he can with a lunatic invading the party,” Moreno added. “In retrospect, more could/should have been done early, but I don’t blame anyone for that. Hindsight is always 20/20.”

Moreno closed the email prophetically: “The worst part for me,” he wrote, “I think trump can beat Hillary!”

A month later, as Trump tightened his grip on the nomination from a field that started with 17 candidates, the fundraising consultant followed up with Moreno and acknowledged concerns “about the situation at the presidential level” and wondered if Moreno might contribute to a separate fund for Senate hopefuls.

“Given that I see a future where trump is the leader of what used to be my party, I’ve sidelined myself,” Moreno replied. “I will support individual candidates, but can’t support a party led by that maniac.”

Moreno’s campaign, in response to questions about the emails, forwarded additional emails from the correspondence. One of them included the consultant commiserating to Moreno about “a very weird place we are in” and that “no one would have expected this to be where we are in March 2016.”

Moreno’s campaign also noted that the consultant now raises money for one of Moreno’s GOP primary opponents, Jane Timken, former chair of the state’s Republican Party.

“This email exchange was with Jane Timken’s current fundraiser,” Moreno campaign manager Parker Briden said. “At the time the fundraiser was raising money for the RNC when these five-year-old emails were exchanged.”

“Bernie gave more than $50,000 to the RNC and related entities in the Trump 2016 cycle,” Briden added. “That includes thousands of dollars from after this conversation — to support Republicans up and down the ballot. He was obviously fired up and disappointed in the moment years ago, but he supported Donald Trump, donated to him, and is fired up for his agenda.”

The donation to Trump came at an October 2020 event in Cleveland for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising venture with the RNC, a Moreno campaign spokesman said.

Moreno had raised money for Rubio’s presidential bid and contributed to then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s White House campaign early in the 2016 cycle. His company also gave $20,000 to the Republican National Convention’s host committee in Cleveland long before it was known Trump would be the nominee.

His initial Trump skepticism does not make Moreno unique among Republicans angling to succeed GOP Sen. Rob Portman, who announced in January that he was retiring.

Former State treasurer Josh Mandel also had first supported Rubio, and Timken had backed Kasich. But Mandel and Timken also would eventually nurture strong ties to the Trump network. Mandel did it through the political aides he loaned to Trump for the 2016 general election, Timken through her years as Trump’s handpicked head of the Ohio Republican Party.

Both have spent the early days of the developing primary trying to outdo each other on the measure of who’s most loyal to Trump.

As Briden noted, despite renouncing the GOP in his emails with the fundraiser, Moreno continued contributing to other top party leaders and organizations in the run-up to Trump’s election victory. He gave $10,000 each to Ryan’s super PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee that fall, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The following year, as the 2018 midterm campaigns began, Moreno was a top donor to the successful House campaign of Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, the former NFL wide receiver and Ohio State Buckeyes standout. Gonzalez — one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump this year for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol — now rates as one of the most despised figures in the former president’s political orbit.

In an April 2019 interview with Cleveland’s NBC affiliate, WKYC, Moreno corrected the interviewer when asked about his support for Trump.

“No, my daughter works on Trump 2020,” Moreno said. “And she’s free to do that. We have a vigorous debate at home about politics, and my daughter works on the Trump campaign. That doesn’t mean that I support the Trump campaign.”

A Moreno spokesperson said Monday that the prominent local businessman did not want to overshadow his daughter’s professional work.

Today, Moreno leans unabashedly into Trump. He sprinkled his official campaign launch last week with other gestures to Trump and his supporters. He’s been endorsed by Trump loyalist and former U.S. ambassador Richard Grenell and his steering committee includes allies of the former president with Ohio ties, including the Rev. Darrell Scott and former White House aide Ja’Ron Smith. And where Moreno was once a GOP donor who wanted his party to cancel Trump, he’s now a vocal defender.

“Big Tech companies colluded to erase President Donald J. Trump from the internet because they hate what he represents,” Moreno writes on his website. “If they can silence him, what will they do to the rest of us if we step out of line?”

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Brexit LIVE: UK nears major breakthrough in hated NI deal after EU files legal action

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UK OFFICIALS are poised to make a major breakthrough in talks on the controversial Northern Ireland protocol, just weeks after the EU launched legal action over the matter.

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