Good (rainy) morning from Augusta. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Even though it killed our business, the right thing is to get the world back on track,” John Bradbury, owner of Bill’s Pizza in Portland, said of the closure of the late-night scene that made his restaurant a popular spot. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s one of these necessary evils.”
What we’re watching today
A massive coronavirus relief bill heads to the Senate after passing the House late Saturday with support from all but two Democrats — one of them from Maine. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, was one of only two members of his party to oppose the $1.9 trillion package proposed by President Joe Biden, which includes extended federal unemployment programs, $1,400 stimulus checks, state and local aid and funding for vaccine distribution, among other provisions.
The sophomore representative defended his vote in a lengthy statement and a Saturday press conference, saying he supported funding for vaccines and extended unemployment but many provisions of the bill were not closely related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This was a vote I made on principle,” Golden said. “Politically, no doubt, the easiest choice would have been to vote yes. But I didn’t come here to do what was easy. I came here to do what I thought was right.”
At least one provision, a $15 hourly minimum wage, is bound to be stripped in the Senate, as it was determined to be not allowed under the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats are using to avoid the 60-vote threshold needed for most Senate legislation. Unlike the House, where Golden defected but the bill still passed, Democrats will likely need every vote they have plus a tiebreaker from Vice President Kamala Harris in the 50-50 upper chamber.
The Senate will likely move relatively quickly, but there are several more steps before a bill will pass. The Senate will pass its own version of the bill, without the $15 minimum wage and possibly with other amendments. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said last week she did not think the bill would get any Republican votes, is among the senators who has indicated she is planning to propose changes. Then the revised bill goes back to the House for another vote before Biden could sign it. All that must happen in the next two weeks to avoid a lapse in federal unemployment benefits on March 14.
Assuming the bill does not see other major changes, Maine could expect to receive around $1.6 billion split between state and local governments, according to a House report. That could resolve a lot of problems in state budgeting, where Maine still faces a $650 million shortfall over the next three years and Gov. Janet Mills has proposed $111 million in borrowing.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine is rolling back pandemic restrictions more slowly than its neighbors,” Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: “A year into the pandemic, states have begun to prepare for a warm-weather season likely to be marked by pent-up travel demand. Vermont — which has had strict travel rules — last week lifted a quarantine order for fully vaccinated people coming to and from the state. Massachusetts allowed the Boston Red Sox to host 4,500 fans beginning opening day.”
— “US panel endorses 3rd vaccine option from J&J,” The Associated Press: “J&J plans to ship several million vaccine doses to states in the coming week, delivering a total of 20 million shots by the end of March. Health officials are eager to have an easier-to-use vaccine against COVID-19, which has killed more than 511,000 Americans and continues to mutate in troubling ways.”
The arrival of a new vaccine will quickly accelerate Maine’s vaccine effort. The state is expecting to receive 11,500 doses this week in addition to the already anticipated allotment of nearly 40,000 vaccines, according to Maine Public. It will double the amount of doses relative to just two weeks ago. Here is what you need to know about the newest vaccine.
— “Penobscot and Piscataquis counties have the highest backlog of criminal cases in Maine,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “‘The numbers show that ‘some prosecutorial districts have been forward-thinking and either dismissing minor cases outright or making favorable plea offers [while] other districts have acted like there is no pandemic and no backlog,’ said Walter McKee, a longtime criminal defense attorney in Augusta.”
Trump places Collins among GOP ‘grandstanders’
The former president attacked party members who voted against him in his most recent impeachment proceedings in a speech on Sunday. The news from former President Donald Trump’s speech to CPAC in Orlando was that he hinted at running again for the White House in 2024 as a Republican. But he also blew off steam when it came to his party, listing congressional Republicans who opposed him in his recent impeachment proceeding and hitting them as “grandstanders.”
They included Collins, who may be censured by the Maine Republican Party this month for her vote to convict the former president. She was reelected in 2020 to serve through 2026, making Trump’s conflicting CPAC call for party unity followed by a plea to “get rid of” all those Republicans not all that applicable to her. Collins has defended the vote as “impartial justice.”
“The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C., establishment political hacks, and everybody else all over the country,” Trump said.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Michael Shepherd and Caitlin Andrews. 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.
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