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Biden vies for party discipline at delicate moment in COVID fight: The Note

ABC News logo ABC News 3/3/2021
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The TAKE with Rick Klein

President Joe Biden can get Merck to work with Johnson & Johnson -- for all that could mean for public health.

But can he get Democrats to agree with other Democrats -- for all that could mean for a similar goal?

Biden's COVID-19 relief bill is getting taken up in the Senate with no real hope of getting Republican buy-in, and with signs of restlessness about the pace of pandemic recovery. It leaves the president maneuvering with no margin for error -- literally needing every Democratic vote to advance his highest legislative priority.

Biden's message to his party, privately and publicly, is to stick together. Yet the Democrats' progressive wing is pushing an ambitious slate of bills -- impacting everything from the minimum wage to voting rights to gun control -- even while moderates seek to trim back elements of the $1.9 trillion COVID package.

Joe Biden standing next to a man in a suit and tie: President Joe Biden briefly speaks to reporters after delivering remarks in the State Dining Room of the White House, March 2, 2021, © Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images President Joe Biden briefly speaks to reporters after delivering remarks in the State Dining Room of the White House, March 2, 2021,

In a call with Senate Democrats Tuesday, the president "noted the urgency of passing the bill to speed up vaccinations and the safe reopening of schools," according to the official White House read-out.

That focus is notable in this moment. Optimism around vaccinations is contributing to what could be a too-soon approach to dropping mask mandates and reopening businesses; "now is not the time to let up," the president warned Wednesday.

On the schools front, first lady Jill Biden -- a teacher herself -- visits Connecticut and Pennsylvania on Wednesday along with the newly confirmed education secretary, Miguel Cardona. The president is now setting a goal of vaccinations for all educators by the end of March -- an ambitious objective, and yet another deadline against which progress will be judged.

Biden now needs to navigate the inside game, in a way that will matter for the crisis that's still nowhere near over.

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

At the White House on Tuesday, the president said he hopes things will get back to normal "by this time next year," but added it depends on if people continue to be "smart." In the meantime, he offered promising news of a boosted vaccine supply that is expected to translate into the U.S. having enough vaccines for every adult by late spring.

"We're now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May," the president said, while adding that hurdles could still exist with administering the vaccine. "It's not enough to have the vaccine supply. We need vaccinators, people who put the shots in people's arms, millions of Americans' arms," Biden said.

The president also appeared to issue a warning across the aisle by publicly reiterating the importance of mask wearing and saying, "now is not the time to let our guard down," just hours after the governors of Texas and Mississippi announced they would be dropping their states' mask mandates.

Greg Abbott wearing a suit and tie: Texas Governor Greg Abbott delivers an announcement in Montelongo's Mexican Restaurant, March 2, 2021, in Lubbock, Texas. © Justin Rex/AP Texas Governor Greg Abbott delivers an announcement in Montelongo's Mexican Restaurant, March 2, 2021, in Lubbock, Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also announced that as of next Wednesday, "all businesses of any type can reopen, 100%." Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said businesses will be able to operate "at full capacity without any state-imposed rules or restrictions" as soon as Wednesday. Although the governors specify that masking and social distancing measures are still recommended across both states, their decisions to do away with pandemic-era requirements are already facing pushback from Democrats and are at odds with guidance from health experts.

Joe Biden in a suit standing in front of a building © Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

"I'm hoping that the businesses, and the community, and people in Texas, the mayors, the county will rethink this. I hope the governor rethinks this," Andy Slavitt, the senior adviser for the White House's COVID-19 response team said Tuesday on CNN. "It's only a small piece of cloth that's needed, so, I don't think it affects the economy of the state."

The TIP with Meg Cunningham

Organizers looking to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California are closing in on their goal of 2 million signatures to send their recall efforts to a statewide ballot. The group has surpassed 1,825,000 signatures with days to go until their self-imposed March 10 deadline.

Recall organizers need just over 1,495,000 valid and certified signatures to send the effort to a statewide ballot, but are hoping to give themselves an extra cushion to account for signatures which will not be verified. As of early February, the state had 668,202 valid signatures out of the 1,094,457 submitted to them at that point. Joshua Spivak, a recall expert, told ABC News that he believes organizers will reach enough signatures to make it to a ballot judging by their acceptance rate so far.

Gavin Newsom wearing a blue shirt: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference after touring Barron Park Elementary School, March 2, 2021, in Palo Alto, Calif. © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference after touring Barron Park Elementary School, March 2, 2021, in Palo Alto, Calif.

"Six million people voted for Donald Trump (in California)," Spivak said. "So with one-third of those 6 million signing this petition, forgetting Democrats, forgetting independents ... there's a good chance that will get on the ballot. That is not some crazy barrier."

And while Democrats are fighting for increased access to the ballot box nationwide, Newsom signed a bill ensuring California will send all active voters a ballot for elections this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Should organizers collect enough signatures, Newsom will have played a personal role in likely increasing turnout in his own recall election.

ONE MORE THING

Evanston, Illinois, is like a lot of American cities. The city just north of Chicago appears picturesque, updated and grand on one side -- but not far away, one can see the signs of economic and racial segregation, despite the city's proud, diverse and liberal reputation. What sets Evanston apart from other cities, however, is its groundbreaking plan to address the impact of that segregation and Black disenfranchisement: Reparations. Here's how the first U.S. city to fund reparations for Black residents is making amends. Watch "Soul of a Nation" Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. Episodes will be available on Hulu starting Wednesday.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Wednesday morning's episode features ABC News Senior Washington reporter Devin Dwyer, who recaps Tuesday's Supreme Court oral arguments over voting rights. ABC News' Eva Pilgrim explains why Johnson & Johnson is turning to the competition to manufacture more vaccine. And ABC News' Alex Mallin tells us what we learned from FBI Director Christopher Wray's testimony on the Capitol attack. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, the authors of "Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency" talk with ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl. https://bit.ly/3oMKdUP

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • Former first lady Michelle Obama talks with ABC's "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts about life since President Joe Biden's inauguration and her book, "Becoming," publishing as a paperback edition and a version "adapted for young readers."
  • Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm appears on ABC's "The View."
  • President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris receive the president's daily brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden holds a bipartisan meeting on cancer at 1:45 p.m. and Harris attends. At 5 p.m., the president participates in a virtual event with the House Democratic Caucus.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs & Rules committees hold a second joint oversight hearing at 10 a.m. to continue their examination of the security and intelligence failures that led to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
  • Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda D. Pittman appears before the House Appropriations Committee at 10 a.m. for a hearing on the fiscal year 2022 budget.
  • The Senate Finance Committee holds a meeting at 10 a.m. and considers the nominations of Xavier Becerra to be secretary of Health and Human Services, Katherine C. Tai to be United States Trade Representative, with the rank of ambassador, and Adewale O. Adeyemo to be deputy secretary of the treasury.
  • The White House COVID-19 Response Team and public officials hold a briefing at 11 a.m.
  • First lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona travel to Meriden, Connecticut, and Waterford, Pennsylvania, to tour two public schools.
  • The vice president visits a woman-owned small business in Alexandria, Virginia, at 11:50 a.m. At 6 p.m., she ceremonially swears in Gina Raimondo as secretary of commerce.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing at 12:30 p.m.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.

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