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Capitol View commentary: Friday, December 11, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 12:51 PM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 13:51:34-05

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

December 11, 2020

INSIDE POLITICS TRIES TO BRING SOME PERSPECTIVE ON THE POLITICAL CHAOS IN WASHINGTON; VACCINES ADVANCE WHILE THE VIRUS CONTINUES TO RAGE; OUR ELECTED LEADERS IN WASHINGTON CONTINUE TO SQUABBLE WHILE MILLIONS FACE RUIN IN THE NEW YEAR; OTHER ISSUES BESIDES COVID FACE METRO AND STATE

INSIDE POLITICS TRIES TO BRING SOME PERSPECTIVE ON THE POLITICAL CHAOS IN WASHINGTON

It has been yet another crazy week in Washington.

President Donald Trump and his allies continue efforts to overturn the November election despite losing several dozen lawsuits. What appears to be a final case before the Supreme Court looms ahead with the Electoral College meeting to cast their votes on Monday.

The President’s persistent claims the nation’s voting system is rigged, particularly in the battleground states he lost, are creating concerns, especially among Republicans in Georgia.

That is where two runoff election contests on January 5 will determine which national political party controls the U.S. Senate.

Back in Washington, both parties in Congress, along with the Trump administration, remain deadlocked over providing more coronavirus relief to the million of Americans who have lost their jobs and businesses, while facing further financial ruin in the new year, losing their homes due to eviction or foreclosure, and facing growing insecurity just to feed themselves and their families.

In the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, we have two of our best political analyst,s Democrat Larry Woods and Republican Bill Phillips joining us this week on INSIDE POLTICS. They will try and put all these challenges into perspective and discuss where things are headed.

Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

7:00 p.m. Friday.

5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.

1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2. We are also back on DISH TV with the rest of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

One option for those who cannot see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted early in the week after the program airs.

Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.

VACCINES ADVANCE WHILE THE VIRUS CONTINUES TO RAGE

When historians look back on the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be the week they say that foreshadowed the beginning of the end of the virus as the United Kingdom began the first mass inoculation effort in a western country utilizing a vaccine that has shown in trials it has a greater than 95% likelihood to stop the illness.

But even as the first steps forward took place, some side effects are surfacing, creating a need for caution for who takes the serum.

Here in the United States, a federal advisory committee of health experts, gave their approval to the a vaccine on Thursday, with the final OK by the Food & Drug Administration expected to follow within hours. The OK is for emergency use of the first of possibly several vaccines, with mass immunization efforts set to begin as soon as this weekend or early next week. Another vaccine approval is set for next Thursday with two others still in the testing stage.

In advance of the vaccine approval, on Tuesday, the outgoing administration Trump administration took a victory lap over the progress, although questions remain about how many doses will be available and how quickly.

Indeed, even as victory laps are run by the Trump administration, officials in some states are concerned they will get only a fraction of the serum doses they were promised, even as reports surface Trump officials declined to lock in the ability to buy additional vaccine from the Pfizer and Moderna drug companies who developed the first two vaccines.

Without offering any direct criticism, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee mentioned, while attending the White House meeting on Tuesday, that our state is geared up to dispense double the amount of serum it is now expecting in its first shipment.

No representatives of the vaccine makers or the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden attended the White House meeting. That has not deterred the new incoming White House team from outlining its own first 100-day plan to combat the virus when it takes office on January 20.

But will we have enough vaccine to keep moving ahead or will we hit a lag later in the winter or spring?

The U.S. is not alone in soon joining the U.K. in a vaccination push. The Associated Press reports Mexico, India and Morocco plan to start inoculations later this month. Canada will also begin immunizations very shortly. Canada is ready to start dispensing vaccine too.

But COVID-19 is not deterred.

The virus raged at near record levels across the country almost every day this week. The nation saw the daily death rate top 3,000 for the first time on Wednesday. Hospitalizations are now above 100,000 nationally. Again, these are not just numbers, they represent peoples’ lives!

While the approval of a virus vaccine is the best news yet to see a possible end to the pandemic, it will take several months before enough people are inoculated to even start to get things back to normal. So don’t let your guard down: wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance and stay out of crowds.

Here’s why.

A top national health official predicts the daily death counts in the U.S. are likely to rise still further and stay at that level for the next 60 days!.

In Tennessee, we saw a record number of cases on Monday (8,136) and again on Wednesday (8,213), along with a record number of deaths in a day on Tuesday (100). Meanwhile, the total number of Tennesseans who have lost their lives from the now 9-month long pandemic has surged to over 5,000.

The surge is creating a real crunch for hospitals including Vanderbilt, the largest in the Nashville area.

In response, Governor Lee has signed an executive order to have the National Guard assist with hospital staffing, although exactly what the Guardsmen will do remains unclear.

Some state nursing leaders say they can be of more assistance if Governor Lee would re-sign an executive order to cut back the paperwork (and physician oversight) so their colleagues can be more productive. They say they haven’t heard back from the Governor.

Unfortunately, one thing that does appear certain is that, like the rest of the country, more record- breaking days for the virus are on the way as the holiday season continues.

All across the nation, after many ignored pleas from health officials not to travel or congregate in large groups, including with extended family, during the Thanksgiving holiday, an additional surge in virus cases seems about to emerge.

Here in Nashville, even as the virus continues to rage at near-record levels, officials have outlined their plan to dispense the first shipment of vaccine when it arrives.

It appears COVID-19 continues to impact schools across the state, although the numbers reported by state officials appear to be incomplete and therefore unreliable.

The latest COVID-19 figures from Metro Schools show a sharp rise in cases and quarantines among teachers and students in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday, with all classes now being held virtually.

Given how high the current virus numbers are for schools, the results of a recent survey, showing a majority of Metro parents prefer in person classes, may be unlikely to happen when schools begin the spring semester in January.

The schools in nearby Wilson County transferred to virtual instruction this week. That will continue through the holiday break ending in January, when in person instruction is set to begin again.

It seems a majority of urban school systems have moved to remote instruction as the holidays commence.

But whether on-line learning is a national trend due the pandemic, Metro parents are becoming more and more concerned about the growing number of failing grades their students are receiving.

On the state level, the problems facing Tennessee schools due to the pandemic could have Governor Lee calling a special session of the General Assembly, although exactly what he wants lawmakers to consider remains unclear.

In terms of students being vaccinated with new COVID-19 vaccines, a new Vanderbilt survey of parents statewide is not promising.

School absenteeism in Nashville is also becoming alarming.

To keep schools open, the state is beginning use of a fast covid test to identify virus issues quickly among staff, and eventually among students.

Elsewhere, there is growing concern about a manpower shortage in Nashville’s Fire and EMT services due to the pandemic. It is a situation than was already dire as the Fire Department and Ambulance division has been understaffed for years.

OUR ELECTED LEADERS IN WASHINGTON CONTINUE TO SQUABBLE WHILE MILLIONS FACE RUIN IN THE NEW YEAR

The lame duck Congress and the outgoing Trump administration remain at a months long impasse over approving more virus relief for the nation, while tens of millions of Americans face a bleak holiday season and financial ruin in the New Year, losing their businesses, their jobs, their homes.

Even for those who are still employed part time, there are concerns how they can keep putting food on the table for themselves and their families while dealing with the life stresses that brings.

While our leaders can’t come to an agreement in Washington, there were more signs this week the economy is weakening again. New unemployment aid requests increased higher than expected. In fact, it is the highest weekly total since September.

One industry that continues to be particularly hard hit, including here in Nashville, are restaurants. Industry leaders say without direct help from Washington, things are going to get still worse. Maybe the pandemic hasn’t really touched your life. But think about this industry imploding, and at least how it will limit your choices as you plan your 2021 dining out excursions. Lucky you.

At least one of the relief packages, the one being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, contains much needed help for Nashville’s live music venues.

It is frankly beyond me how our elected leaders can go home for the holidays without taking action. But Congress always seem to come to a decision when the clock is about to run out, so perhaps a “pre-holiday miracle” might still happen. But late word from Washington says if a relief deal is not worked this weekend, it will be too late to get a bill approved by next Friday (December 18) when lawmakers are set to go home for the holidays….and for the year.

In fact, by late Thursday, the squabbling on the Hill was getting so bad, a stop gap spending plan to keep the government running and a must pass defense funding bill are in trouble. How 2020 is that?!!? In the midst of the worst public health crisis in over a century, our government may have to shut down due to a lack of funds!

After the year 2020 has been for all of us, the nation deserves better than this from its elected leaders.

Here in Tennessee, the state is trying to help those whose CARES Act unemployment benefits run out the day after Christmas. Under the title of “Let’s get to work Tennessee”, the effort is a multi- media campaign and a web site containing information about up to 240,000 jobs available in all skill levels.

On the Nashville government level, the roughly $30 million left in the city’s share of the federal CARES Act funds, passed back in March, must be appropriated and spent, by the end of the month. That means after months of squabbling, a final decision is due by Tuesday at the final Metro Council meeting of 2020.

OTHER ISSUES BESIDES COVID FACE METRO AND STATE

Mayor John Cooper administration has been working for several months on a new multi-year transportation $1.6 billion plan for the city. Following overwhelming voter rejection in May 2018 of a much more ambitious and expensive transit plan pushed by then-Mayor Megan Barry, the Cooper plan is smaller in size and focused more on bus, road and sidewalks improvements. Metro’s cost would be funded over the years through the city’s operating budget and capital projects. No tax increase is envisioned.

The Mayor says most of the funding will come from private sources and from the state and federal government. That includes the new Biden administration which Mayor Cooper says plans to spend a lot more on infrastructure. That’s why the Mayor says you need a plan, or Nashville won’t be in line to get the money.

But when asked to just to endorse the new plan, not fund it, the Metro Council is balking.

Another looming headache for the Mayor, in the midst of the pandemic, is leadership in the city’s Health Department.

Metro’s Health Director, Dr. Michael Caldwell has been among those leading the city’s fight against COVID-19. But he resigned under fire Thursday. The move came after a city human resources investigation confirmed sexism and gender discrimination allegations against him. Over half the 40 members of the Metro Council signed a letter calling for Dr. Caldwell to resign or be dismissed by the Metro Board of Health.

On Thursday morning Mayor Cooper seemed to offer little support. Dr. Caldwell issued a statement of apology asking for more time to stay. But at meeting Thursday night., the Health Board voted 6-0 to accept his resignation and said he should be gone by the end of today (Friday).

THE TENNESSEAN

Meanwhile the city’s highly controversial 34% property tax increase approved last summer landed at the Number One spot this year in the Tennessee Beacon Center’s annual ranking of government pork. The conservative/libertarian oriented group also went after the state and other local government projects across the region.

As for Governor Bill Lee, his cabinet is in growing disarray.

For the third time in less than a month, a commissioner is stepping down with two of them leaving under a cloud.

The Governor and the state also face another lawsuit over its voting law. This time it’s the state NAACP concerning Tennessee’s systematic failure to restore the voting rights of felons.

And there is this developing story that has its roots beginning decades ago.

In 1968, then-Tennessee State University instructor Rita Geier joined with Nashville civil rights attorney George Barrett to file a lawsuit. They accused the state of operating a dual system of higher education for minorities.

The lawsuit centered over the University of Tennessee's plans to develop a Nashville campus. The lawsuit maintained the move would create a predominantly white school, while historically black Tennessee State would suffer. The case dragged on for 38 years. The state ultimately agreed to provide millions of dollars to diversify public colleges and universities. The UT-Nashville campus was dismantled.

Tennessee State and the University of Tennessee are the state’s only land grant universities. Now questions have been raised about whether TSU also been shortchanged in this regard over the years to the tune of possibly millions of dollars?

A special committee of the Tennessee General Assembly is now looking into the matter.

This week the UT system also took a step to expand by moving ahead to include Martin Methodist College in Pulaski.