U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, right, talk at a 2018 news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Numbers went through the roof,” Cheryl Costa, co-author of the “U.F.O. Sightings Desk Reference,” said of the increase in UFO reports in Maine in 2020. “I mean, what else did people have to do besides stream movies, sit on the deck at night and drink.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

The U.S. Senate is poised for a long night as lawmakers look to amend Democrats’ proposed coronavirus relief bill. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and other Republican senators will have the opportunity to attempt to inject their policy ideas into the eventual budget resolution during a so-called vote-a-rama, which will begin later today and could stretch into tomorrow morning after Democrats moved forward a partisan vehicle for a stimulus over Republican objections.

It is the next step in budget reconciliation, a legislative procedure that allows a spending bill to pass with majority support in the Senate, avoiding the 60-vote filibuster. That could allow Democrats to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan without Republican support, though there are limitations on what can be included compared to a bill passed through the normal legislative process.

Democrats have the power as long as they can keep their caucus together. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, will likely be the closest-watched member and has already said he opposes the $15 minimum wage in Biden’s plan, which puts that part of the deal in jeopardy. He is closely aligned with Collins and wants a bipartisan solution, though he has said he is not necessarily opposed to a bill roughly as large as Biden as proposed.

Much of today’s marathon Senate debate is for messaging purposes. Republican senators have prepared more than 400 amendments, including some to fund former President Donald Trump’s border wall and provide resources to prevent “sex-selective abortion” among a myriad of other items, Politico reported.

But other amendments could be more tailored to stimulus. Collins has not said what amendments she plans to introduce, but the floor session could be an opportunity to bring up some of the priorities contained in the $618 billion plan she led, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, which she pitched to Biden in a meeting this week.

The House kicked off its side of budget reconciliation on Wednesday, with one of Maine’s representatives bucking his party. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of the 2nd District was one of two Democrats to vote against the House budget resolution Wednesday. He argued that the budget reconciliation process would take too long and that Congress should first pass legislation to fund vaccine distribution.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Belfast officials call for civility on ‘Protest Corner’ after anti-mask tensions escalate,” Abigail Curtis, Bangor Daily News: “That may be a big ask. Although just about all of the 30 or so people who shared their thoughts with councilors said they are strongly in favor of free speech, many said that the anti-mask protesters seem to cross a line that is distinctly uncivil. Last month, one of the protesters at the busy intersection, whose other corners host a pizza shop and a toy store, carried a flag that said “F– Biden,” while another held up a poster that said, “F– Censorship #Walkaway.” One protester often uses a megaphone to shout at [passers-by], and none wear masks while they gather.”

Androscoggin County officials opted to push back a vote on a resolution defying Maine’s statewide mask mandate. Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales had introduced the measure to render Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order requiring face coverings in most public places void in Androscoggin County, arguing that it restricts individual freedom. County commissioners voted 4-3 to table the resolution on Wednesday amid concerns they do not have the power to set laws and suggestions of alternative resolutions.

— “Sanford shopping center eyed for Maine’s 3rd mass COVID-19 vaccine site,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Maine Center for Disease Control Director Nirav Shah said on Tuesday the clinic could vaccinate up to 1,200 people a day, making it the third-largest clinic in the state. The Cross Insurance Center and Scarborough Downs, where Northern Light Health and MaineHealth, respectively, have created two clinics, are capable of vaccinating up to 2,000 people a day, though limited supply is keeping those clinics far under capacity as they ramp up.”

A board member of an Augusta hospital that offered first vaccine doses to donors said the CEO asked her about getting a shot. On the heels of a BDN story about MaineGeneral Health’s inclusion of donors in an initial vaccine clinic for 60 people aged 70 or older, a board member told the Kennebec Journal that CEO Chuck Hays asked her if she wanted to receive the shot. Barbara Mayer, who is 75 and said questions raised did not put the hospital in “the best light,” said she did not know whether she was asked due to her age or membership and eventually got vaccinated elsewhere. The hospital is said the clinic was intended to test procedures and preferential treatment was not intended.

— “Maine lags region in electric vehicle policy amid industry switch,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “The report comes a week after President Joe Biden raised the stakes for states to get on board with electric vehicles and a major U.S. automaker said it would change over its fleet. Biden made electric vehicles the centerpiece of his climate plan, saying he wanted to convert about 645,000 postal trucks and passenger vehicles to all-electric and incentivize American companies to build a network of 500,000 charging stations.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...