(CNN) — A key panel tasked with evaluating America’s first coronavirus vaccine candidate raced against the clock Thursday in the quest to save American lives, a stark contrast to the hesitations, excuses and appalling lack of action in the Congress, where lawmakers are scrambling to reach an agreement to send emergency pandemic aid to millions of Americans and may, once again, not prevent a government shutdown at midnight.
But the country got a glimpse of what efficiency and transparency looks like during Thursday’s marathon public hearing of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel, whose members were productive, competent, and questioned experts directly without grandiloquence.
For hours, the group analyzed the incredibly complex issues surrounding the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, wrestling with ethical and medical questions about who should receive the first doses and when, culminating the day with their landmark vote urging the FDA to authorize the vaccine. for emergency use.
Members of Congress, meanwhile, scored another day without agreement on a desperately needed emergency stimulus package aimed at helping millions of unemployed Americans who are on the brink of a financial cliff when their benefits expire at the end of this month.
Many small business owners who have been decimated by covid-19 restrictions, particularly those in the restaurant industry, say they need another round of relief to stay afloat. And a big question arises about how much vaccine distribution could slow in the coming months if Congress does not provide additional help to state and local governments that are trying to help providers, combat vaccine skepticism, and make the vaccine Get where you need to go in the remote corners of every state once it’s delivered.
Reflecting the apparent lack of urgency and continuing intransigence from the top, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have shown little indication that they are willing to work together. and helping the bipartisan group of senators, who are trying to put together a framework for a COVID-19 relief package.
McConnell’s aides have told senior staff on both sides that the leader sees no way to resolve disagreements over the liability provisions in the emergency stimulus package or requested covid-19 assistance for state and local governments. CNN’s Manu Raju reported Thursday. McConnell has said he would like negotiators to remove those two sticking points and pass a more limited package without them, but Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say they cannot accept a reduced package when it comes to aid. .
When Pelosi was asked when she plans to start negotiating directly with McConnell, she responded during a press conference Thursday that it was important to follow “the normal regular order” and let the commissions work out the details of a package before the leadership. Get involved: “We did not negotiate the bill from the beginning,” he said.
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The fact that representatives of the people in Congress cannot figure out how to reach an agreement on aid to Americans on the brink of a deadly pandemic is quite mind-boggling.
But now there are new signs of total dysfunction in Congress. Members may not be able to avoid a government shutdown starting Friday at midnight due to delays in finalizing a week-long short-term spending bill that they would use to keep the government running until 18 December.
Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, stands in the way of a vote on that essential legislation because he opposes a provision in a mandatory defense bill that is also scheduled for his consideration.
Meanwhile, there are objections to the short-term spending measure itself from different corners: A group of conservative senators want language to prevent future government shutdowns, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, is demanding that the Senate vote. on a provision to give Americans $ 1,200 stimulus checks.
Senate Majority Leader John Thune of South Dakota accused Sanders of “basically trying to hijack” the bill that would fund the government until next week “to get the vote he wants on stimulus checks.” . CNN’s Congressional team reported that a shutdown would likely be brief, occurring over the weekend when many government operations shut down, but it would be a new low in what has already been an unbearable year.
Sanders did not apologize for his position in a statement, stressing that “tens of millions of working-class Americans face economic devastation.”
“They have no income, they face eviction, they cannot afford to go to the doctor and many cannot adequately feed their children,” he said in a statement to CNN. “Congress cannot suspend session for the holidays to return to our families when so many other families are living in despair. It is absolutely imperative that we provide $ 1,200 for each working-class adult and $ 500 for each of their children.
The Vermont senator noted that the level of aid was included in the CARES package approved in March and said Congress should not go home until they address the current crisis.
And like President Donald Trump, some members of Congress appear to be even more focused on spreading disinformation about the November election than on stopping the spread of the coronavirus or providing relief.
More than 100 House Republicans signed a friend of the court to support an effort, started by the Texas attorney general, to invalidate election results in four battle states that Trump lost to Biden: Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The president filed a motion Wednesday to intervene, and 18 Republican attorneys general are also backing the effort. At the president’s request, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said he would argue the case if the Supreme Court decides to hear him.
But even some Texas Republicans were skeptical. One of them, Rep. Kay Granger, said she does not support the lawsuit and called it “a distraction.” Another, Senator John Cornyn, told CNN he was struggling to “understand the legal theory of it.”
But other Republicans, like Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, have been more than happy to support the president’s unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud. Johnson intends to hold a hearing next week “to examine the irregularities in the 2020 elections” before the Senate National Security Committee.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican, has argued that the audience is inappropriate in partisan halls of Congress and said he doesn’t know if he will participate. “I don’t think we have the resources to do investigations, nor do we have the constitutional mandate to make judicial decisions,” Romney said Thursday. «The Department of Justice does the investigations. The courts are in charge of judicial matters… So I don’t see the purpose of a hearing other than to provoke controversy.
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The disconnect between Congress’s inability to commit and the need for nationwide help was underscored this week by horrific hospitalization rates and rising death toll – trends expected to continue into the New Year.
One day before the FDA advisory panel voted to recommend emergency use authorization for the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, there was a staggering 3,124 deaths, a single day record since the pandemic began, as the virus continues to run rampant through urban areas and rural communities in the US
Doctors and nurses are exhausted as hospitalizations rise and states try to recruit more healthcare workers to help deliver the vaccine to ordinary Americans next year. And rural and underserved communities are struggling with a shortage of volunteer first responders such as emergency medical technicians and firefighters who help get patients to hospitals for care.
The coronavirus model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now projects that another half a million Americans will have died from covid-19 by April 1, a slight improvement over its prediction last week. pass. (The model predicted that the launch of the vaccine could save at least 25,000 lives.)
Amid so much discouraging news, the swift discussions to approve the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine were a rare glimmer of hope Thursday.
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Power now rests with the FDA to take the next big step by granting emergency use authorization for the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, which would allow the first doses to be shipped nationwide. The FDA and its advisory panel will repeat the same process next week when they consider Moderna’s vaccine.
Before vaccines can actually be injected into the arms of Americans, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must agree to offer them to the American public based on the recommendation of one of its advisory panels. But that chain of events is expected to advance rapidly this weekend.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, called the FDA advisory panel’s move “a very important step” as the government tries to build confidence in the vaccine.
“We want to make sure we give the American people the impression that decisions involving their health and safety are made outside the realm of politics, outside the realm of self-aggrandizement, and are essentially made by independent groups,” Fauci said. CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Cuomo Prime Time” Thursday night.
President-elect Joe Biden called the FDA’s advisory committee decision “a bright light in an unnecessarily dark time,” and expressed gratitude to the scientists and public health experts “who evaluated the safety and efficacy of this vaccine. free from political influence. ‘
After weeks of President Donald Trump unnecessarily delaying the transition between administrations while pursuing his failed court challenges to the elections, Biden’s advisers finally met with Operation Warp Speed on Thursday and plan do it again on friday.
“Vaccines are not the same as vaccination. Our challenge now is to increase production and distribution, ”Biden said in a statement. And he added that he hopes to distribute 100 million injections in the first 100 days of his administration.
“We are building an experienced team to do just that,” said the president-elect. “Before taking office, we need the Trump administration to buy the doses it has negotiated with Pfizer and Moderna and work quickly to scale manufacturing for the American population and the world. And we will need Congress to fund our distribution efforts. “
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