Good Morning from the Nation’s Capital
The United States Senate approved President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Saturday after clinching a deal Friday night over unemployment benefits—which ended a nearly nine-hour standoff between Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the rest of his Party, and engaging in another all-night vote-a-rama (vote-a-rama: (n) an extended sequence of back-to-back votes in the United States Senate. A side effect of special rules for considering the budget resolution or a reconciliation bill, a vote-a-rama may last 10, 20, 30 hours or more, and occurs after all time for debate has expired but before a vote on final passage). The Senate had been in session for more than 36 hours straight by Saturday afternoon. Senators (primarily Republicans) proposed a mountain of amendments (read them all here), and forced the Senate Clerk to read the entire 600-page bill aloud. However, Senate Democrats largely stuck together throughout the night and staved off GOP efforts to drastically change the bill. And while some Democrats defected on a handful of GOP amendments, those amendments required 60 votes to pass and largely failed.
A proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour was the highest-profile amendment introduced during the vote-a-rama on Friday. Though Senate Democrats decided to strip the proposal from their bill (after the Senate Parliamentarian ruled last week it could not be passed with a simple majority through budget reconciliation), progressive Democrat Senator and Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced an amendment forcing a vote on the matter. In total, eight Democrats defected to sink the amendment (Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire voted against proceeding, though the tally remains open. So did two close Biden allies, Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Senate Democrats, also opposed it.) Though it failed, Sanders expressed resolve that progressives would eventually triumph on the issue. “If any senator believes this is the last time they will cast a vote on whether or not to give a raise to 32 million Americans, they are sorely mistaken,” said the Vermonter. “We’re going to keep bringing it up, and we’re going to get it done because it is what the American people demand and need.”
The divide on minimum wage could underscore coming fights in the Senate on progressive priorities, including policing reform and voter protection measures. While the Senate worked to pass Biden’s Coronavirus relief bill last week, the House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the most ambitious police reform effort in decades, for the second time on Wednesday (read the most recent proposal here). The sweeping legislation would ban chokeholds and “qualified immunity” for law enforcement and create national standards for policing in a bid to bolster accountability. House Democrats also passed a sweeping expansion of federal voting rights on Wednesday over unified Republican opposition, opening a new front in a raging national debate about elections aimed at countering G.O.P. attempts to clamp down on ballot access. The 791-page bill, designated H.R. 1 by Democrats to reflect its importance to their agenda, would also eliminate partisan gerrymandering, impose new transparency on dark money used to finance campaigns, tighten government ethics standards, and create a public financing option for Congressional campaigns. Progressives believe it is imperative to pass these two bills—and others—while Democrats control Congress. To do so, they would need to blow up the filibuster and, if you ask Manchin and Sinema (and maybe other senators) the votes are not there to do this. Much more to come on this over the next couple of months.
Back in Albany…
It was another terrible week, and an even worse weekend, for Governor Cuomo. Additional reporting—including new allegations that top Executive Chamber aides edited nursing home reports to remove data regarding deaths, a report alleging a cover up of structural problems with the new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, and two more sexual harassment allegations from both the Governor’s time in Albany and his time in Washington (not to mention a nationally televised interview with former staffer Charlotte Bennett on CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell)—further rattled New York political circles. Now, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins declared Cuomo “must” resign while Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie offered support for that position, although he was less definitive. Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris and an increasing number of legislators are joining Stewart-Cousins (15 senators as we went to print). The Albany Times Union and Gannett/USA Today New York State Editorial Boards have also called on the Governor to resign.
Amidst the calls for his resignation, the Governor is resolved to stay on the second floor and—at the very least—serve out his term. “I was elected by the people of the state. I wasn’t elected by politicians. I’m not going to resign because of allegations. The premise of resigning because of allegations is actually anti-democratic and we’ve always done the exact opposite. You know the system is based on due process and the credibility of the allegation,” Cuomo said. “This is not about me and accusations about me. The Attorney General can handle that. This is about doing the people’s business, and this next six months I believe will determine the future trajectory for New York State.” Late on Sunday night, pols from throughout the state reported the Governor was calling around asking them not to issue statements after the Senate Majority Leader and Assembly Speaker’s calls for him to resign. Expect more on this to unfold today and this week.
While this may be an afterthought given the weekends news. . . on Friday, the Senate and Assembly passed bills to scale back the governor’s emergency powers. The bill (which is not as sweeping of a rebuke as legislators say nor is it as much nothing as Cuomo and Republicans claimed), allows the Governor’s COVID-19 directives to stay in effect for 30 days. It prevents Cuomo from issuing any new directives without lawmakers’ approval while also allowing the Governor’s existing directives to be extended and modified. The bill also leaves intact any emergency powers the governor’s office had before the pandemic but provides that the legislature can terminate a state disaster emergency if both Chambers approve a concurrent resolution (read the full text here). During heated debate in Albany Friday, Republicans—and some Democrats—in the Legislature said the scale back does not go far enough. “This is the last good chance we have to reassert ourselves as a legislature,” said Republican Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes.
Amidst the unprecedented chaos, whether or not the budget will be on time remains to be seen. While we watch for Legislative One House Budget Proposals— even before she had called for his resignation Sunday—Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she has not spoken with the Governor in two weeks—highly unusual for the principals in the budget negotiations for this time of year. Other legislators have expressed concerns about the Executive Chamber’s ability to navigate some of the thornier issues. “Most issues get ironed out at the level of staff and individual legislators and don’t rise to the level of the legislative leadership negotiating directly with the governor. But the issues that get to that level are by definition the toughest. So this kind of difficulty, as long as it is unresolved, can make doing a budget very difficult,” said Assembly Member Dick Gottfried last week. In short, you will want to stay tuned.
— Jack O’Donnell
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides requested changes to a Covid-19 report that resulted in the death toll in nursing homes being significantly undercounted, people familiar with the report’s production said.
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NYS Legislature: New Member Spotlight
Assembly Member Stefani Zinerman (Assembly District 56)
Assembly Member Zinerman was elected to represent Assembly District 56, which includes the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in Brooklyn in November 2020. In June 2020, she defeated community activist Justin Cohen in the Democratic Primary to succeed Assembly Member Tremaine Wright, who vacated her seat to run for the State Senate.
Prior to her election to the Assembly, Assembly Member Zinerman worked in local and state government, beginning as Chief of Staff for the 36th Council District for five years before moving into the role of Director of Special Projects for State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. Her entire career has focused on equity and access as a Program Manager for several human rights organizations, including the Research Foundation/CUNY, the Algebra Project, the Education Development Center, the Community Service Society and the American Red Cross.
An active member of Community Board 3, the 81st Precinct Community Council, Community Education Council 16 and Boys and Girls High School Community Advisory Committee, Assembly Member Zinerman continues to work on education equity, public safety and emergency preparedness. During her tenure at the New York City Council, she served as Chair of the Age Friendly Neighborhood Initiative and worked closely with community stakeholders to expand the program, which led to Brooklyn receiving recognition as an Age Friendly City in 2019.
This session she will serve as Chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Emerging Workforce, and as a member of the Committees on Aging; Agriculture; Labor; People with Disabilities; Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development; and the Task Force on Women’s Issues.