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Capitol View commentary: Friday, February 5, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 1:02 PM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 14:02:07-05

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst

February 5, 2021

COVID-19 CONTINUES TO SEE DECLINE ALTHOUGH DEATHS CONTINUE TO SOAR AND UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE FUTURE CONTINUES; METRO NASHVILLE SCHOOLS DIRECTOR DR. ANDRIENNE BATTLE ON INSIDE POLITICS; NEW RENTAL ASSISTANCE EFFORTS UNDERWAY; THE FIRST LEGISLATIVE TEST FOR THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION; EVEN MORE CHAOS THAN USUAL ON CAPITOL HILL WITH THE GOP CIVIL WAR RAGING AND THE TRUMP IMPEACHMENT TRIAL LOOMING; STATE & LOCAL NEWS BRIEFS; AS VIOLENT CRIME AND MURDERS RISE IN NASHVILLE MORE CHANGES COME TO THE METRO POLICE DEPARTMENT; METRO COUNCIL MOVES AHEAD WITH 2ND AVENUE BOMB PROBE; HOW I HAVE STAYED SANE DURING THE PANDEMIC; MAY SHE REST IN PEACE

COVID-19 CONTINUES TO SEE DECLINE ALTHOUGH DEATHS CONTINUE TO SOAR AND UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE FUTURE CONTINUES

The spread of COVID-19 continues to decline nationally for the second week in a row. But deaths continue to rise, and concern continues over the now multiple variants of the virus across the country. Those could spark new spikes in the disease, even as the ongoing rollout of vaccines, while improving, still remains frustrating slow.

The confusion is causing a good bit of cheating and bending the rules and priorities in terms of who is getting the shots.

To address some of the fairness and other issues, the Biden administration this week began to send vaccines (in limited amounts) to pharmacies and drug store chains to reach a broader range of people needing to be vaccinated. The weekly amount of serum going to the states also increased slightly this week.

The virus situation in Tennessee reflects many of these same issues and challenges.

The number of new cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, but deaths passed a grim new milestone this week going over 10,000 fatalities in just 11 months. There is little sign of that rise ending, as deaths have been and remain near or above 100 on many days.

It took Tennessee about 5 months to reach 1,000 virus deaths, then 4 more months to record 2,000. At that point, the fatality rate began to gain momentum, going to 5,000 in December, then doubling in less than 3 months, to the current heartbreaking 1,000-plus total. Remember, each number represents a real human being whose life has been cut tragically short.

By the way, if you think the GOP Super Majority in the Tennessee General Assembly is coming back to Nashville next week to do all it can to address the virus issue…...think again. Several Republican lawmakers are sponsoring bills that would undermine the major public heath recommendations and other efforts that have kept this pandemic from being even worse.

There is some good news, the state’s virus positivity rate was down to the 8% level at the end of week, the first time it had below single digits in some time. And with new, more contagious variants of the virus showing up in Tennessee, it is great news that another vaccine, that will require just one shot, is likely to soon be available.

In terms of the current vaccine rollout, state health officials say they are close to wrapping up giving shots to those in nursing homes and long- term care facilities. The eligibility age for seniors to get shots is down to 70, but it won’t likely to go down to 65 until at least March, while teachers still wait to begin being vaccinated in many counties, including Nashville.

Across the state’s 95 counties, the situation remains somewhat chaotic, if perhaps slowly improving. The state received 5% more vaccine this week and hopes for even more in the weeks to come.

While the state claims it is distributing its serum based on population, the urban areas seem to be having the most problems, including this foul up in registering for vaccinations in Nashville. The city still doesn’t have enough vaccine to give shots to seniors below 75, even though most of the rest of the state is well underway to do that. Since giving shots is on the honor system, there could well be a lot of “vaccine tourists” doing day trips across county lines, and even state lines, in Tennessee.

Not to depress anyone who just knew this year was clearly going to be better than 2020. Local events that were cancelled (Mule Day) or postponed (the Iroquois Steeplechase) last year due to COVID-19 are making the same announcements for their events in 2021.

The really disappointing news is that at the rate of current vaccinations one estimate says it will be 7 years until things can return to normal. Bummer.

Let’s hope that begins to change.

In the meantime, stay safe this Super Bowl weekend.

METRO NASHVILLE SCHOOLS DIRECTOR DR. ANDRIENNE BATTLE ON INSIDE POLITICS

It remains perhaps the most vexing and controversial question surrounding the nearly year-long coronavirus pandemic.

How do we safely re-open our schools to in person instruction and keep it that way?

Nashville is among many communities struggling with this.

The Director of Metro Nashville Schools, Dr Adrienne Battle, has released the system’s latest effort to get back into the classroom.

In fact, it began on Thursday after a flareup of controversy in recent days involving state education officials, Republican lawmakers and Governor Bill Lee.

Dr. Battle is our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

Tune in and 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.

RELATED NOTES: The debate in Washington this week over re-opening schools to in person instruction nationwide took on some overtones that sound like Tennessee.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper says he wants to place a priority of vaccinating teachers and childcare workers. But when that starts depends on the supply of vaccine the city receives.

Meanwhile the state of Kentucky has a different, higher priority on schools in terms of teacher vaccinations. They plan to finish their effort to get the first round of shots done by early this month.

NEW RENTAL ASSISTANCE EFFORTS UNDERWAY

As the Biden administration and Congress debate how much additional virus relief is needed, efforts are underway in across Tennessee and here in Nashville to distribute badly needed emergency rental assistance help to the thousands in danger of losing their place of shelter.

The funds are from the last relief measure approved in Washington late last year. Tuesday night, the Metro Council approve a $20.9 million grant for rental help to be administered by the Metro Action Commission while the Tennessee Housing Authority is gearing up to do the same statewide.

It is not directly virus aid, but two state Republican lawmakers have filed legislation to begin to deal with Tennessee’s years-long, scandalous practice of not spending the state’s TNAF (Tennessee Assistance For Needy Families) funds from Washington to help its low income citizens. The amount of funds “saved for a rainy day” is almost as large ($740 million) as Tennessee’s overall “rainy day fund” for the entire government.

Yet since this incredible unwillingness to spend money sent from Washington to help our needy citizens came to light, the Lee administration and legislative leaders have done nothing to resolve the matter. Kudos to these lawmakers for filling the leadership void with this legislation. Maybe something will finally happen.

THE FIRST LEGISLATIVE TEST FOR THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

When Democrat Joe Biden ran for President last year he promised to “go big” with a new virus relief bill that would be large enough to tackle the nation’s problems from the pandemic.

He did that, in part, because when he was Vice President in 2009, he helped pass a relief measure in the wake of the Great Recession, that he now thinks was too small.

But the real problem the new President faces now with his virus relief effort is not only size, it is that Mr. Biden promised he would work across the aisle and try and bring unity and some bipartisan support to his efforts.

No dice says the GOP in Congress, the bill is too big at $1.9 trillion (especially since Congress just passed a small relief act late last year). Republicans also don’t like a proposed hike in the federal minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour. Raising that rate is another major campaign promise of the President.

This week there were some attempts at compromise, but the efforts of 10 GOP Senators to present their own relief package was seen as way too small (only about one third the size of the Biden plan). The President’s efforts, to find common ground through compromise, were seen as positive moves, but again have been too small to strike a bi-partisan deal.

With compromise efforts perhaps still underway behind the scenes, Democrats are looking to go it alone, despite their smaller majority in the House and only the barest of majorities in the Senate (the tie-breaking vote of the Vice President).

Using a legislative procedure called “budget reconciliation,” that has been used by both parties to pass controversial measures such as the tax cuts under President Trump and the Affordable Care Act under President Obama, bills can avoid the filibuster rules and be passed with only 51 votes in the Senate.

But passage depends on almost complete unity among Democrats in the House and total solidarity in the Senate. To keep all the provisions in the bill intact it may also need some favorable rulings from the Senate’s parliamentarian.

The first round of passing the bill through both houses is now all but complete but more work remains to get the legislation done. Stay tuned. This is moving fast.

On Friday, the latest jobs report found some small gains in jobs added and a slightly lower unemployment rate. But we are still a long way from recovery.

New requests for unemployment assistance were lower than expected but the numbers remain quite high by historical standards. In Tennessee, the unemployment requests were down almost 11,500.

EVEN MORE CHAOS THAN USUAL ON CAPITOL HILL WITH THE GOP CIVIL WAR RAGING AND THE TRUMP IMPEACHMENT TRIAL LOOMING

The battle over the future direction and leadership of the Republican Party continues to play out in both houses of Congress. The entire Hill is still in turmoil in the wake the January 6 riot when angry Donald Trump supporters took over the Capitol, in a deadly but unsuccessfully effort to overturn the November presidential election.

One of the GOP fights this week in the House centered over efforts to remove Congresswomen Liz Cheney, a member of its leadership team, because she voted in favor of impeaching former President Trump for his role in inciting the riot. After a GOP Caucus meeting and a secret ballot vote by members on Wednesday, Representative Chaney survived the fight against Republicans who found her vote disloyal.

The Cheney fight was not the only one among the GOP in the House this week. Members on both sides of the aisle have been more and more concerned about the comments and social media postings of new Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Her support of a number of false internet conspiracy theories along with comments seemingly supporting the execution of her colleagues, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, led to a move to oust her from her committee assignments. But after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his Caucus declined to take any action, Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats brought the issue to the floor of the chamber, to make GOP members either own or disown the Congresswoman’s comments. 11 Republican members of Congress did join the Democratic majority and stripped Taylor Greene of her committee posts.

Such a rebuke of a member is rare, but even more so were the negative comments about Congresswoman Taylor Greene that came from the other chamber, where the leader of the GOP Senate was highly critical.

All this in-fighting shows the Republican Party in turmoil in the wake of the loss of former President Trump. That turmoil will be on even more display next week when the second impeachment trial of Mr. Trump begins in the Senate.

Already some Senators, who will act as jurors deciding the case, are somewhat concerned about the former President’s defense, which had to be put together quickly, after the original lawyers, set to defend Mr. Trump, withdrew amid reports of disagreements.

The House members presenting the case against the former President say he should be held accountable for his actions and say they have plenty of news videos to show his actions in real time leading up and during the January 6 Capitol riot. They wanted the President to testify but he has declined.

Here’s how things are likely to work out in the trial. It seems likely the former President will again by acquitted.

So, what is the future of the Republican Party?

From a historical perspective, is it going to split like the Whig Party did over slavery?

Or come to pieces like the “Know Nothing” Party did, also back in the 1850s?

More immediately, how does the party keep it together for the 2022 mid-term elections?

Some of my Republican friends say, over time, the influence of former President Trump will fade. Maybe so, but for now, having garnered over 70 million votes last November and raised hundreds of millions since, Mr. Trump is in a strong position to be a dominant force in the GOP and national politics at least for the time being.

STATE & LOCAL NEWS BRIEFS

Maybe the Tennessee school voucher law isn’t dead?

The controversial measure has been ruled unconstitutional by both the trial and appeals courts, but the Tennessee Supreme Court says it will take up the matter (even though the High Court didn’t have to take the case.)

Watch this space, as the issue will soon be debated before the justices, to see if one of Governor Bill Lee’s top legislative achievements will ever come to fruition.

In another important legal effort, Tennessee Attorney General Hebert Slattery is continuing to pursue his efforts to find and hold responsible those he believes are aiding and abetting the deadly opioid epidemic in the state.

The AG’s office also reached a financial settlement this week in one of its other opioid related lawsuits.

Faced with another difficult budget year ahead, as the pandemic lingers, how is Nashville preparing for its financial obligations surrounding the Sounds AAA ball park where last season was wiped out bringing in no fans, and no tax revenues?

AS VIOLENT GUN AND MURDERS RISE IN NASHVILLE MORE CHANGES COME TO THE METRO POLICE DEPARTMENT

In a week when patrons at a Bell Road restaurant had to subdue an armed robber , a man was shot and killed while putting gas in his car in Antioch, and a 15 year old was killed in a “targeted shooting,” Metro Police Chief John Drake and Mayor John Cooper sought to address the issue of rising violent crime and murders in the community, by making more organizational changes in the Police Department.

Only time will tell if these moves result in decreasing violent crime. But with murders in Nashville during the first month of this year (11), more than twice what they were in January of 2019 (5), the need for quick action seems paramount.

METRO COUNCIL MOVES AHEAD WITH 2ND AVENUE BOMB PROBE

Without debate and in a unanimous vote on Tuesday night, the Metro Council approved a nine member special commission to review and investigate the circumstances and responses pertaining to the Christmas Day bombing on 2nd Avenue with the commission to make any recommendations regarding public safety improvements.

Under the bill, the Commission is granted the full subpoena power and other authority to conduct its own investigation, hold hearings, request the services of the Metropolitan Auditor, and, upon adoption of a resolution by the Council, engage the services of outside professionals.

The Commission is set to be appointed within 20 days after approval of the ordinance (likely February 16) and report its findings within a year after its first meeting.

One issue bound to be under scrutiny is what Metro Police knew and also what they did ,or didn’t do, about information it received that the bomber was making bombs at his home in 2019.

Another issue likely to be reviewed closely, is how did the bomb created such unexpected damage to the state’s and the region’s 9-1-1 system. Critical equipment was housed in an AT&T building on the street which some think was the target of the bombing. There are also concerns about whether such sensitive communications ought to be kept in more rural secluded areas and not in densely populated urban centers.

Already state officials are probing the matter but is not getting a lot of information.

In one other action related to the bombing, the Metro Council has given initial approval to wave building and other city fees charged to those seeking to rehabilitate or rebuild their buildings and property in the bomb impacted area on 2nd Avenue.

In one other pandemic related matter, the Council extend for a full year the new rules making it easier for restaurants to operate outdoor café service. That may not be much help during these cold weather months, but when warmer spring weather returns, maybe it may bring in more business.

HOW I HAVE STAYED SANE DURING THE PANDEMIC

As the country approaches the one- year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic, we are tired and weary of all the death and heartbreak these last 11 months have brought.

The restrictions and changes in lifestyles, for ourselves, our families and friends have not impacted everyone anyway close to being equally. The inequities that have marked our society for centuries, in the treatment of people of color and the poor, seem only to have been amplified by the virus.

That has been true even in the rollout of vaccines, the heralded light at the end of the tunnel to finally bring an end to this tragedy.

In these unprecedented times, what can we do to try and stay sane?

First, I realize I am blessed. I have not been stricken by the virus. I have not lost my job or my home. I retired from my full-time job a full year before the pandemic struck, so for the work I do with NewsChannel 5 and the Metro Council, I was already used to doing largely from home.

But in the months around the beginning the virus shutdown, I found a place of solace to the rising anxiety I felt, as outlets to get out of my home became limited. My place of solace has been, of all things, exercise.

I say that because, for most of my life I have not exercised. I was really anti-exercise. With the pre-existing conditions I have, plus my age, I knew, if I didn’t do something, I was asking for trouble.

I also knew staying home more, and no longer getting out to the few exercise classes I was taking at the YMCA, was targeting me to adding on 15-20 pounds while I sat around.

I found a relatively simple way to exercise. I walk.

I do it at least 5 times a week, at least 10,000-11,000 steps, and about 5 miles or more, each time I go out. I started at first not measuring the numbers, but after my family gave me a Fitbit for Father’s Day, I haven’t missed a week since mid-June in following my 5-day a week exercise regime.

Sometimes when the weather has been nice, I have walked 6, or even all 7 days, in a week. This week, with the cold, rainy, windy, snowy weather, we’ve had, I hope to get my 5 days in by the weekend.

The walks really help keep my weight in check (maybe even down a few pounds), while keeping my blood pressure and my blood sugar when it needs to be.

The walks also have given me some mental comfort. I listen to my XM Radio (60s and Classic Rock) and it helps to clear my head. It allows me to think about what I want to say and write about in this column every week, and what I want to ask my guests on INSIDE POLITICS.

The walks help me think about what I want to research next on-line about family or local history. I then share my research, along with archival family photos and news clippings, in e-mails to my younger relatives, and in posts to my Facebook friends on line. That has been another joy for me during this troubled time.

I get positive reinforcement about my walking from my family and from Fitbit. This week, the company sent me a badge for how much it says I have walked since I started.

It is now over 990 miles, in only seven months!

The badge is called the New Zealand Badge, because 990 miles is the distance of walking the length of that Pacific nation. Earlier, I have received similar badges for walking the length of Italy and the Sahara Desert.

Who knew walking 5 times each around the two blocks nearest my home would help me explore the world, while walking almost a thousand miles!

Well, maybe not. I have not even checked to see if the distances reflected by the badges are correct. I am not sure I care.

Walking has helped keep me sane during this uncertain time…and I plan to keep on doing it even after the pandemic ends. I encourage you to exercise, or find something to do, to keep you sane, because it may be a while yet before things get back to whatever “normal” will be in the future.

MAY SHE REST IN PEACE

I have covered and interviewed so many elected officials and politicians over the years, it can, at times, be easy to forget that they are people just like the rest of us.

That includes the sorrow of losing a loved one. After a long illness, Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper lost his wife, Martha, this week.

My deepest condolences to the Congressman and his family.

Martha Cooper often came with her husband to the studio when he appeared on INSIDE POLITICS. She was always kind and friendly to me. I don’t know how much she liked politics, but she spent her life quite close to it, as the wife of a Tennessee Congressman who has spent over 25 years in Washington representing two different districts; the daughter in law of a Tennessee Governor and First Lady and the sister in law of Nashville’s current mayor.

The Congressman himself wrote the obituary for his wife. May she rest in peace with prayers of comfort for the family during this difficult time.