BUDD AND CAWTHORN USE PROXY VOTE TO ATTEND CPAC: Budd introduced a bill last year that would withhold pay from any lawmaker that voted remotely or by proxy, saying at the time that “outsourcing the duty of a member of Congress is unconstitutional and wrong.” In July, Cawthorn, then a candidate for U.S. House, tweeted that Democrats who vote by proxy are “cowards for hiding and not showing up to work.” But on Thursday and Friday this week, Budd and Cawthorn had Rep. Patrick McHenry, another North Carolina Republican, vote on their behalf. Both Budd and Cawthorn used standard language in their letters to the House assigning someone as their proxy, which are required. They both wrote they were “unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.”
GOVERNOR COOPER VETOES SCHOOL REOPENING BILL: In his veto message, Cooper said students learn best in the classroom and noted that he's urged systems across the state to offer in-person instruction ever since prominent studies were released saying it's safe to do so with masking and other measures in place. But Cooper said the Republican-backed Senate Bill 37 fell short in two places: hindering him and other officials from shutting schools down again if the pandemic worsens and allowing middle and high school students, thought to transmit the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 more readily than younger students, back in classrooms "in violation of NC Department of Health and Human Services and CDC health guidelines." That second concern is up for debate, because the bill has language requiring social distancing and other safety measures as laid out by DHHS. But the Governor's Office has said language lower down in the bill introduces enough vagueness that they fear some systems will open without all of those measures in place.
BIDEN'S FEMA WILL ADMINISTER 3,000 VACCINES DAILY AT GREENSBORO SHOPPING MALL: The White House announced Friday morning that it will include North Carolina in its federal pilot program of community vaccination centers. Starting March 10, a Greensboro site will receive about 3,000 vaccines per day. The timing aligns with Gov. Roy Cooper's expansion of vaccine eligibility to frontline essential workers. Teachers, child care workers and school staff were made eligible earlier this week, while a far more sweeping group of workers ranging from grocery store clerks to elected officials can start getting their COVID-19 shots the day the clinic in Greensboro launches. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will support the site at the Four Seasons Town Centre. The three-story shopping mall in Greensboro will have options for the vaccines to be administered through a drive-thru in the parking lot or in person inside a space formerly occupied by Dillard’s department store. Cooper noted Guilford County was chosen for the pilot because of its sizable share of underserved and marginalized populations.
U.S. HOUSE PASSES $1.9 TRILLION STIMULUS PACKAGE ON PARTY-LINE VOTE: The House approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan early Saturday and sent it to the Senate, as Democrats defied united GOP opposition to advance the massive relief package aimed at stabilizing the economy and boosting coronavirus vaccinations and testing. The legislation, Biden’s first major agenda item, passed 219-212. Republicans unanimously opposed the bill, a strikingly partisan outcome just a month after the new president was inaugurated with calls for bipartisanship and unity. All but two Democrats voted in favor. The vote closed shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday after a long day of debate, with Republicans repeatedly decrying the legislation as a partisan boondoggle and Democrats defending it as much-needed relief. Even bigger fights await in the Senate, where Democratic unity will face greater tests. Beyond the minimum-wage increase, the sprawling relief bill would provide $1,400 stimulus payments to tens of millions of American households; extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits through August; provide $350 billion in aid to states, cities, U.S. territories and tribal governments; and boost funding for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing — among myriad other measures, such as nutritional assistance, housing aid and money for schools. On Thursday night, the Senate’s parliamentarian ruled the wage hike as written could not proceed under reconciliation, the budgetary maneuver Democrats are using to pass the stimulus bill through the Senate without GOP votes. Liberals erupted, with some even suggesting the nonpartisan parliamentarian should be fired, but Pelosi and other House leaders indicated Friday they’re ready to move beyond the dispute and save the minimum-wage fight for another day, while insisting they’d get it done one way or another.
SOME REPUBLICANS ARE LEANING TOWARDS INCREASING MINIMUM WAGE TO $10: Republicans have at times grappled with the challenging politics of a position that so clearly sides with business interests. In the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, said that he believed that the federal minimum wage should rise in step with inflation, as measured by the national Consumer Price Index. And after arguing early on in his 2016 campaign that wages were already too high, Mr. Trump later said he could support a $10 minimum wage. That is the number that Mr. Romney, now a Republican senator from Utah, and Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, introduced in a plan that would gradually raise the minimum wage to $10 over four years and then index it to inflation every two years. On Friday, Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, went a step further by matching the proposal that Democrats have made for a $15 minimum wage. His plan comes with a big caveat, however, and would apply only to businesses with annual revenue of more than $1 billion. The proposal drew a sharp rebuke from David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth, who suggested that Mr. Hawley was adopting bad policies in a bid to appeal to Mr. Trump’s voters. He said that his organization would not support Republicans who promoted minimum wage increases and said that they should be pushing for payroll tax cuts to give workers more take-home pay. “This is another example of his ambition driving him to these populist positions that completely violate any principles he has about free markets,” Mr. McIntosh said in an interview. While the talking points surrounding the minimum wage have remained largely the same over the years, the politics are shifting partly because the federal wage floor has stagnated for so long — and a growing economic literature has suggested that the costs of higher wage floors may not be as significant as analysts once worried they might be.