NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLTICS AS WARNINGS GROW OF MORE DOMESTIC TERROR ATTACKS IN WASHINGTON; ANOTHER PROMISING WEEK FOR THE VACCINES BUT QUESTIONS LOOM ABOUT VARIANTS AND TESTING LEADING TO STILL ANOTHER VIRUS SURGE; BACK TO NORMAL OR NOT; BACK TO AFTER MIDNIGHT FOR THE METRO COUNCIL; ANOTHER WEEK OF HOT BUTTON ISSUES ON THE HILL; ONE YEAR LATER
CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLTICS AS WARNINGS GROW OF MORE DOMESTIC TERROR ATTACKS IN WASHINGTON
It has been almost exactly 2 months since the deadly insurrection in Washington that saw the takeover of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
As the criminal investigation and hundreds of arrests from that event continue, there were renewed concerns this week of imminent, new attacks of domestic terrorism inside the Beltway.
So far nothing has materialized, as yet another QAnon prophecy fails to come true. Yet, Congressional leaders and security officials are requesting thousands of National Guard troops stay on duty for the next two months to protect the Capitol.
It is a busy time for the new session of Congress and for the new Biden administration.
To comment and reflect on all that’s going on, we are joined this week on INSIDE POLITICS by Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper.
We always we appreciate the Congressman taking time to be with us.
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ANOTHER PROMISING WEEK FOR THE VACCINES BUT QUESTIONS LOOM ABOUT VARIANTS AND TESTING LEADING TO STILL ANOTHER VIRUS SURGE
Both Presidents Trump and Biden have compared our struggle with COVID-19 to a “war.”
If that is the case, the best weapon that we have to wage that war are the three vaccines now approved for use in the U.S. That trio of medicines now seem to be gaining momentum in getting enough serums available (and increasingly into arms). That could portend, much like our wartime production to defeat the Germans and the Japanese in WWII, we may see success sooner than later in 2021.
In fact, this week after negotiating with Pfizer and Moderna to rework their contracts to get more vaccines available sooner, and to get Johnson & Johnson to work with a rival (Merck)to greatly increase its production of its new one -shot treatment, President Biden says there will now enough serum available for every adult in the U.S. by the end of May, two months earlier than predicted just a few weeks ago.
But some potential clouds still loom over that light at the end of the tunnel. While COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined from a January peak, those numbers have begun to plateau in the last week or so. And they are doing so at levels that are still above earlier peaks in 2020.
While health officials are warning everyone (including those already vaccinated) to keep up their guards and continue to follow all the recommended protocols, some states are sending the opposite message by again dropping restrictions. All this comes while variants of the virus, some of which are more contagious, continue to grow in numbers across the nation.
There are also concerns about a lack of testing re-emerging across the country, which hampers health officials’ ability to monitor the amount of virus in the community.
Here in Tennessee and Nashville, health officials continue to urge people keep up their guards. As we mark the one- year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case being diagnosed in the state, I don’t hear any officials issuing alarms about a new spike in variants or about a drop in testing. In fact the 7-day positivity rate for both the state and Metro dropped below 5%, a level it has not been in for a long time.
Metro this week further relaxed its restrictions on bars and restaurants in terms of their hours and capacities, as well as restrictions on events, including weddings.
Some surrounding counties are dropping their mask mandates. These are moves which President Biden and others are strongly criticizing, especially in states such as Texas and Mississippi. The President calls it “neanderthal thinking.”
Of course, there was immediate blowback criticism of the President from officials in the states he called out. And while the state of Alabama extended its mask mandate into April, it was made clear by the Governor it won’t be extended before that.
In response to increasing supply of vaccines, the state of Tennessee said on Tuesday that, beginning next week, one million additional Tennesseans will be eligible to sign up for shots. It is a group with pre-existing conditions and therefore among the most at risk to the virus.
But, somewhat ominously, the expansion may also be because of lack of demand in some areas.
Metro lowered its age to be eligible for the vaccine to 65, but there continue to be critics of the state’s allocation of serum. Tennessee health officials say they prefer equity over speed.
With more vaccine available, Metro is also expanding its list of those eligible to get their shots. Now, along with pregnant women and household contacts of pregnant women, those age 16 and over can get the dabs, if they are considered high-risk in terms of health complications from the virus, along with their caregivers.
This appears to be a move similar to what the state has just announced. It also seems to be the first time Metro has moved ahead on the vaccine at the same time the state is doing so, perhaps another sign of more vaccine being available. The new Metro and State vaccine eligibilities led quickly to an announcement of a special vaccine outreach to expectant mothers by a local hospital.
Metro says it does not plan to require IDs or make other checks of those seeking shots under the new Phase 1C. That may raise questions and possibly controversy, especially if, for some reason, vaccine supply tightens again.
Nashville officials are also continuing efforts to reach out to communities of color to answer questions and increase their participation in getting shots.
With the availability of three vaccines, consumers want to know which one is the best? And while they usually aren’t being given a choice, health experts say it is a complicated matter and don’t be confused by some news reports. The key thing to remember is that all the vaccines are safe and effective.
A couple of other issues that made the news this week. There have been several instances across the state where vaccine has been spoiled and cannot be used.
The misuse of the vaccines in Shelby County has created so many issues, county health officials have been removed from distributing the serums for now, as a state and federal investigation continues. Meanwhile, Metro Nashville officials are trying to figure out how they undercounted the city’s number of COVID-19 deaths (by over 230) as compared to the state’s figures. Neither problem is a major one in the grand scheme of things, but they are embarrassing. They also come as Tennessee is experiencing great success with the vaccines, turning around a major source of deaths during the pandemic, nursing homes and long- term care facilities.
Of course, the Tennessee General Assembly wants to have its say, entertaining a bill that would allow people to decline to get vaccinated on the basis of religious beliefs. The measure stalled in committee this week.
BACK TO NORMAL OR NOT
There were conflicting signals this week on how close we are to getting “back to normal,” whatever that means.
Among the things that were in the news this week that might indicate we aren’t headed back to the good old days in Nashville include:
Despite the city relaxing its restrictions on bars and restaurants, one major annual music and tourist event, the CMA Festival, won’t be held in June for the second year in a row.
The cancellation is a tough blow for businesses looking for the CMA event to provide a solid kickoff for them to rebound after a terrible 2020.
In the area of sports, just as it appeared the Nashville Sounds was set to open its new baseball season early next month, after missing all of last year, Major League Baseball has decided on at least a one- month delay for the beginning the AAA season.
On the other side of the comeback equation, Vanderbilt University will hold an outdoor in-person commencement in May, including a very high- profile speaker.
The school is even allowing some limited fan access to see its nationally ranked baseball team. During the pandemic, what home athletic contests were held at VU have seen only parents, family and scouts allowed to be present.
This week also saw Metro Nashville public high school students (grades 10-11-12) being able to attend classes in person for the first time in nearly a year.
Metro Schools also announced this week it is planning to hold in person proms and graduation ceremonies later this spring. Summer schools too.
In fact, in the wake of the significant student learning loss during the pandemic, the summer effort appears to be massive.
There are also more signs of good things ahead including a major next mixed- use development downtown, Fifth+ Broadway, holding the first of two grand opening events this week.
And there is this upbeat report about the positive outlook for continued growth and development in downtown despite all the challenges.
In terms of increased economic development and new jobs for the area, there are signs that General Motors may be locating a second new battery plant in Tennessee as the company move towards producing only electric vehicles in the not too- distant future.
On the national scene, the first jobs report card for the Biden was significantly better than expected.
That is likely to further improve the President’s positive job performance numbers. They are now at 60% positive overall , 70% in his handling of the pandemic.
But as the Senate debates the virus relief bill will Republicans try to paint the better job numbers as a sign the economy is improving and the country does not need a lot more spending? But with a nation still suffering with 10 million less jobs than just 12 months ago, will anybody buy that argument?
BACK TO AFTER MIDNIGHT FOR THE METRO COUNCIL
The Metro Council went back to its old ways from last spring and summer, meeting over 6 hours, or pass midnight this week.
Part of the reason for the long hours is due to the continued clunky nature of holding meetings on line. The agenda also included close to 30 public hearings on zoning matters, which always take more time to handle. The Council also got into some hot issues, including revisiting the ongoing controversy over health insurance benefits for former councilmembers. Previous Councils have deadlocked on what to do. Tuesday night saw debate over a compromise which was approved on the second of three readings for the bill.
The Council after some extended debate approved Mayor John Cooper $481 million Capital Spending plan for schools, a new police precinct and transportation. The 31-7 vote said the Council found the projects worthy, but some were unhappy the administration didn’t block efforts to add an additional $7 million to the bill to finish improvements to the Fair Park development at the Fairgrounds. Past administrations have usually said to add a project means something else must be cut. When that didn’t happen some councilmembers sought to oppose adding in Fair Park resulting a lengthy debate and a roll call vote (which all by themselves are time consuming in a virtual format.
There were other Council members who felt the Capital plan was too much, as it made the city’s debt level too high, at almost 14% of the city’s operating budget. The Cooper administration says this is not a problem.
But there are questions of how much higher the city’s property tax delinquency rate is, compared to previous years, and in the wake of the record 34% property tax hike approved last summer. Taxes were due February 28 It appears late payments will be higher. This week also saw a study released by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce saying the tax increase was justified.
On Tuesday night, given the increase in tax delinquencies, the Metro Council seemed poised pass a late resolution, asking the Metro Trustee to allow late taxpayers 5 days (until March 5) to pay without penalty or interest due to the recent winter storms. But when that appeared to not be legal, the Council added an amendment to have late taxpayers contact the Metro Housing Fund which apparently has a program that can help. To make sure that was all in order, the Council then deferred voting on the resolution until its next meeting March 16.
ANOTHER WEEK OF HOT BUTTON ISSUES ON THE HILL
Despite being warned that it would create expensive lawsuits against the state, and could lead to groups boycotting Tennessee, while cancelling sports and other events and meetings here, all 27 Republican members of the State Senate this week voted in favor of banning transexual students being able to participate in K-12 sports in Tennessee.
Ironically, there are no known transsexual students currently even seeking to play sports in the state. But never miss the chance to stir up an issue that activates the conservative GOP base.
It would not be a session of the General Assembly with a major gun rights bill passing. For years, Tennessee lawmakers have bragged about the state’s requirement to have gun owners undergo training and pass a test to get a permit to have a firearm.
But Second Amendment advocates say the right to bear arms shouldn’t be encumbered by a permit from government. They are pushing bills that allows “constitutional carry”, the right to carry a gun (concealed or openly) for adults and members of the military, without any training or approval by the state.
This week, such bills advanced in both houses. Governor Bill Lee recently re-stated his support for his measure during his ‘State of the State” speech. It appears lawmakers do have some choice in what constitutional carry bills they want to support. It would despite opposition being voiced by law enforcement officials across the state.
Lawmakers are getting pushback on some of their efforts. That includes the recent letter all the GOP members of the Senate sent to Tennessee higher education leaders complaining about members of the East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem before a recent game. The lawmakers want such behavior stopped but some are pushing back on the issue.
Based on past actions, lawmakers have been hinting they might cut university’s budgets if education officials don’t stop any future kneeling incidents. During state budget hearings on the Hill this week, that pressure seems to be having an effect.
On another hot button topic this week, there was strong pushback against almost every Republican member of the House who signed a joint resolution seeking to oust well respected Nashville Chancery Court Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle.
Her offense was ruling against the outcome the GOP lawmakers wanted regarding voting by mail during the 2020 elections and the pandemic.
To my knowledge no Senators have signed on this wrongheaded resolution. It should stay that way.
Lawmakers are also into re-runs on hot button issues. The effort to make the Holy Bible the official book of the state of Tennessee is coming up for consideration again.
Finally, the FBI probe that has cast a shadow over the entire session continues to generate news.
One story is about a Tennessee lawmaker, who is involved in the probe. He received a nearly $150,000 PPP loan. Despite appearances, he says it wasn’t for his campaign. Meanwhile, following several NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES stories, state regulators have decided to revisit complaints regarding shadowy campaign activities surrounding a Middle Tennessee legislative race.
ONE YEAR LATER
This past week marked the one -year anniversary of the killer tornadoes that swept across Nashville and Middle Tennessee. There were special services held to remember the 25 people who lost their lives.
The anniversary comes as recovery continues. Things are still far from complete with the pandemic, which began within days after the storms hit, still casting a shadow. There are however resources still available for those seeking tornado relief assistance.