Here is a summary of the top political issues making headlines this week.
1. Buttigieg to be Transportation secretary, Granholm to lead Energy
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden picked South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a former rival presidential candidate, to lead the Transportation Department and is expected to name former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to be the next secretary of the Department of Energy.
Buttigieg would lead an agency that will be key in carrying out Biden’s efforts to revitalize U.S. infrastructure.
But Buttigieg’s being a mayor of a small city has critics questioning his qualification to lead a large federal agency.
“He has little experience in the transportation field. He supported and undertook some pretty solid transportation policies as mayor of South Bend, but approving the redesign of a few streets downtown to be more bike-and-pedestrian friendly is a far cry from administering a $90 billion department with 55,000 employees, which is equivalent to roughly half the population of South Bend (the city itself has about 1,000 employees and a budget of $358 million). And this will be his first job in Washington,” wrote Aaron Gordon in Vice.
Buttigieg, 38, would be first openly gay Cabinet secretary if he is confirmed by the Senate.
A transition official told NBC News that Granholm has been an outspoken advocate on combating climate change and environmental policy.
Granholm “is a proven leader on jobs, renewables and a clean energy future who will bring empathy and experience to the Department of Energy,” Christine Pelosi, a Democratic Party strategist in California and the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, tweeted Tuesday. “And she’s a trailblazing former governor who constantly lifts up other women.”
“I think Governor Granholm is going to be a fantastic energy secretary for the nation and we’re proud to have her right here from Michigan and I’m proud to have her as a former Lansing resident,” said Lansing Mayor Andy Schor.
a. Joe Biden’s Presidential Cabinet: Everything We Know – Marie Claire
d. Jennifer Granholm and Gina McCarthy – powerhouse picks for key climate posts – Red, Green, and Blue
2. Biden inauguration ceremony to be mostly virtual yet very costly
It is probably a price tag you never imagined. Perhaps a rock star selling out a stadium concerts could conjure $45 million for what is essentially an event with sideshows.
But that is what Washington, DC, government officials say it will cost to hold Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration on January 20. And this one is likely to be a virtual affair in large part.
But $45 million?
There won’t be tens of thousands of people converging on Washington for a parade. But there will likely be demonstrations and smaller-scale events. Costs for security personnel and measures throughout the city will add up.
There will be the facilities now being built in front of the U.S. Capitol building to host Joe Biden’s swearing in as U.S. president.
The Washington Post reported this week that “the president-elect has set expectations for a mostly virtual event, telling reporters recently that his inauguration probably will not include a parade down Constitution Avenue.”
Representative James Clyburn, chairman of Biden’s inaugural committee, said he expects 75 to 80 percent of Biden’s inaugural activities to be virtual and that a more traditional celebration of Biden becoming president might take place July 4.
By then hopes are that much of the populace would be vaccinated against the cornonavirus.
Which brings us back to the question: $45 million?
a. D.C. says it needs $45 million from Congress to host inauguration after protests drained funds – The Washington Post
c. Inauguration Day: Officials are trying to plan amid pandemic – The Washington Post
d. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Begin Plans For Inauguration – Black Enterprise
f. Clyburn Says Biden’s Inauguration Events Will Be ’80 Percent Virtual’ – NBC New York
3. Push on for Biden to end federal executions as soon as possible
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, a former proponent of the death penalty, has pledged to end the execution of inmates sentenced to die under federal law.
With 10 federal death row inmates having been executed since July and three more scheduled to die before Biden is sworn in as president, anti-death penalty activists are calling for Biden to act as soon as possible.
The three inmates scheduled to die before January 20 include. Lisa Montgomery, who would be first woman to face the federal death penalty in nearly 70 years..
Montgomery was convicted of strangling a Missouri woman who was eight months pregnant in 2007 and taking her unborn baby, who survived.
Executive Director of the Fair and Just Prosecution Miriam Krinsky told CNN after a meeting with Biden’s Justice Department transition team that stopping federal executions “doesn’t really require congressional action.”
“Joe Biden cannot leave the lives of those on death row in the hands of future presidents. If he truly opposes the death penalty, he must do everything in his power to stop it for good. Granting clemency to all on federal death row is his most effective tool,” Cori Bush, who was elected to Congress from Missouri in November, wrote in Time magazine.
Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley wrote in a letter obtained by CNN: “The current administration has weaponized capital punishment with callous disregard for human life. In the middle of our current public health crisis, the Department of Justice resumed federal executions and executed more people in six months than the total number executed over the previous six decades,”
There are 52 people on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
4. Health adviser had pushed for people to get coronavirus
A Trump administration official had pushed for the United States to adopt a “herd immunity” approach to covid-19 and allow millions of Americans to be infected by the virus, according to emails Politico obtained.
“There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD,” Paul Alexander, a government science adviser wrote in July to Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo and six other senior officials.
Officials told Politico that they believed that when Alexander made recommendations, he had the backing of the White House.
“Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk… so we use them to develop herd… we want them infected…,” Alexander wrote.
With more than 300,000 deaths and more than 15 million infections, the United States far surpasses any other country in the toll the virus has taken on its citizens.
A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said Alexander’s demands for herd immunity “absolutely did not” shape department strategy.
“Dr. Paul Alexander previously served as a temporary Senior Policy Adviser to the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and is no longer employed at the Department,” the spokesperson said.
b. Supplemental Memorandum on Investigation into Political Interference with Coronavirus Response– U.S. House of Representatives
e. Biden starts countering Trump’s messaging on vaccine – Politico
5. Biden campaigns for Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia
The U.S. president-elect went down to Georgia this week.
Perhaps Joe Biden might indeed want to paint Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as the devil.
Biden’s purpose for the visit was to convince voters to help topple McConnell as majority leader by electing the two Democratic candidates — Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in a January 5 runoff election.
If the Democratic candidates win both seats, the Senate would effectively be a 50-50 split, with 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats. They would have control as Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the deciding vote on any even split on legislation once she is sworn into office on January 20.
“Are you ready to vote for two senators who know how to say yes and not just no?” Biden told an Atlanta drive-in rally, as people were in their cars because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden attacked incumbent Republicn Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for embracing a lawsuit filed by Texas that sought to invalidate the election results in Georgia and three other states Biden had won. The U.S. Supreme Court summarily dismissed the case.
“They fully embraced nullifying nearly 5 million Georgia votes,” Biden said. “Maybe they think they represent Texas. Well if you want to do the bidding of Texas, you should be running in Texas, not Georgia.”
e. Jon Ossoff discusses January Senate runoff and COVID-19 – CBC46 Atlanta
6. U.S. Supreme Court to hear college athlete compensation case
The U.S. Supreme Court is jumping into the fray of compensation for college athletes for the first time.
This week the court agreed to hear an appeal of a ruling that the NCAA, the governing body for U.S. college sports, violated federal antitrust law when it barred schools from certain expenditures for student athletes.
The ramifications cross into the world of politics, media and big business, as the NCAA brings in more than a billion dollars a year, box and courtside seats at university football and basketball games are often seen as political plums and what politician does not want to be seen highlighting the accomplishments of a star student-athlete.
“Even as the debate over paying college athletes has unfolded across the country — and in the lower courts — the Supreme Court has, until now, stayed out of it. The decision to take up this issue today does not signal how the court is likely to come out, but certainly tees up a major ruling on the issue by the beginning of next summer,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
Lawyers for the NCAA asked the court to step in, arguing that “rules that limit ‘eligibility’ to enrolled students who are not paid to play are justifiable means of fostering competition among amateur athletic teams and therefore procompetitive for purposes of antitrust challenges,” CNN reported
The NCAA has argued that additional compensation beyond scholarships blurs the line between college and professional sports.
“This latest challenge now allows schools to give money to athletes for expenditures like computers, study abroad scholarships, paid internships, musical instruments and other products and services related to academic pursuits. Bans against direct cash payments remain in effect,” CNN reported.
b. America’s sports are ruined by politics– Washington Times
c. The NCAA brings in $1 billion a year — here’s why it refuses to pay its college athletes – Business Insider
g. 17 Advantages and Disadvantages of Paying College Athletes – Future of Working
7. Debate over Dr. title creates an off-campus firestorm
A column in the Wall Street Journal suggesting incoming First lady Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education, drop Dr. in front of her name set off a firestorm with some arguing that only medical doctors should use the Dr. title.
Joseph Epstein, former editor of The American Scholar magazine, began his column in the Journal saying: “Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill — kiddo. Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr.’ before your name? ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.”
Some saw the issue as sexism.
“What patronizing, sexist, elitist drivel,” tweeted Kate Bedingfield, President-elect Joe Biden’s communications director. “Dr. B earned a doctorate in education, so we call her Doctor. The title Mr. Epstein has earned here is perhaps not fit for mixed company.”
The Fox News’ Tucker Carolson got into it.
“Jill Biden is not a doctor, no. Maybe in the same sense Dr.Pepper is,’ he said on his show.
a. Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D. – Wall Street Journal
c. The hullabaloo about calling Jill Biden ‘doctor,’ explained – The Washington Post
g. Will there be a Dr. in the White House? Absolutely – Fortune
8. Americans could get new stimulus checks as a deal is close
A $900 billion deal is close to being made between the Trump administration and U.S. congressional leaders that will put money directly in the hands of citizens in the effort to boost an economy hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic.
The proposed deal includes “enhanced federal jobless benefits, small-business funding and money to distribute covid-19 vaccines,” The New York Post reported.
It is projected that many Americans would receive a one-time payment of around $600-$700.
“It’s not a done deal yet. But we are very close,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York was quoted as saying.
A new relief package has run into roadblocks for months.
“We made major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package that would be able to pass both chambers with bipartisan majorities,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Wednesday. “We committed to continuing these urgent discussions until we have an agreement, and we agreed we will not leave town (for the Christmas recess) until we’ve made law.”
b. Congress May Have Deal on Second Stimulus Package: What We Know – New York Magazine
c. Bipartisan $908B COVID-19 stimulus bill to be unveiled Monday: Sen. Manchin – New York Post