The Senate parliamentarian on Monday cleared the way for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to use reconciliation to pass additional pieces of legislation, allowing them to bypass a potential GOP filibuster, Schumer’s office said. The legislation can pass with standard majority votes, instead of two-thirds majority support in the Senate.
This could have implications for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package.
The move means that Schumer can pass Biden’s $2.25 trillion jobs and infrastructure package through a revision of the 2021 Budget Resolution, a process that can also be used to pass the second half of the package, The Hill reported.
Schumer’s spokesperson said that the development, “allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues.”
Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough issued the opinion on Friday, which means that Democrats can also work to pass the infrastructure bills without immediately trying to end the filibuster.
The move to revisit the 2021 Budget Resolution could also spur additional opportunities to vote on budget-related legislation using the simple-majority votes, which Vice President Kamala Harris holds a tiebreaking vote for.
A Justice Department investigation into GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is looking into money he and a political ally paid directly to women via apps, The New York Times reported Thursday. According to the report, which cited several unnamed sources familiar with the case, the women said they were paid for sex.
Sources told The Times that Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, who has been indicted on multiple counts including those related to sex trafficking, connected with women online.
Gaetz has denied ever paying for sex.
“Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex,” his office said in a statement to The Times. “Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life.”
On Thursday, The Times, citing four people familiar with the investigation, reported that Gaetz and Greenberg are both being investigated for potentially having illegal sexual relationships with the same 17-year-old woman, as well as with other women who they allegedly paid to have sex.
The report claims that Greenberg introduced Gaetz to several women via websites like SeekingArrangements.com, where wealthy people and members can seek “sugar daddy” relationships, oftentimes sex and intimacy in exchange for gifts.
According to The Times report, Gaetz and Greenberg met various women at hotels in Florida and paid for sexual encounters.
Gaetz offered MDMA to at least one woman and used the drug himself during one sexual encounter, according to people familiar with the meetups and with the Justice Department interviews, The Times reported.
The Times reviewed Cash App transactions between Greenberg, Gaetz, and several women mentioned in the interviews.
In August 2020, Greenberg was indicted on fourteen counts, including sex trafficking charges related to a minor between the age of 14 and 17. According to the Orlando Sentinel, prosecutors allege that Greenberg used his access as an elected official to seek information on women via the Florida Driver and Vehicle Information Database and engage relationships with them.
On Tuesday, an explosive report from The New York Times revealed that Gaetz is under federal investigation for potentially violating federal sex trafficking laws. The Times reported that the investigation into Gaetz stemmed from the federal investigation into Greenberg.
A new report from CNN said Rep. Matt Gaetz showed lawmakers nude photos of women he said he had slept with. He showed off these photos both in private and on the House floor, CNN reported, and bragged about his sexual exploits.
Thursday’s development comes as Gaetz is facing a firestorm over the revelation that the Justice Department is investigating whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, which would violate federal sex-trafficking laws.
CNN said there was no evidence the nude photos Gaetz showed to lawmakers were connected to the Justice Department’s investigation.
After The New York Times reported on the existence of the Justice Department’s inquiry, Gaetz went on a Twitter and media blitz, alleging that the investigation into him was part of an elaborate plot to extort his family for $25 million. He called the allegations against him “horrible” and said that while he was “generous” with women he previously dated, he was “absolutely” confident none of them were underage.
The Florida congressman also said he was being targeted because he’s an “outspoken conservative.”
He said the allegations were part of an “organized criminal extortion” of him and that “the people pushing these lies are targets … of the ongoing extortion investigation.” He added that he and his family had been cooperating in an FBI investigation into the matter, and he provided emails to Politico on Wednesday that appeared to back up his statements.
Gaetz accused David McGee, a former DOJ prosecutor who now works at the law firm Beggs & Lane, of spearheading the alleged extortion plot and said that his father, Don Gaetz, was first contacted about it on March 16. McGee said earlier this week that Gaetz’s allegation was “totally false” and has since declined to comment or not responded to requests for comment.
It’s unlikely that the sex-trafficking investigation was part of an extortion plot, given that it was launched months before Gaetz said his father was contacted.
His claim that he’s being targeted because he’s an “outspoken conservative” also doesn’t hold up, since the inquiry was opened under a Republican administration and while William Barr – a staunch Trump loyalist with strong conservative credentials – was attorney general. Barr and other senior Trump appointees were briefed on the investigation when it was launched and green-lighted it, The Times reported.
A spokesperson for Gaetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A mishap at Emergent Biosolutions, a manufacturing plant in Baltimore that produces two separate coronavirus vaccines – Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca – has spoiled close to 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and has delayed production and shipment schedules for weeks, according to The New York Times.
According to the report, the mixup was due to human error, when workers mixed up the ingredients of the vaccines. The report added that the Food and Drug Administration is investigating the incident, and the mixup means that Johnson & Johnson has halted future shipments of its vaccine.
The mistake does not affect Johnson & Johnson vaccines that have already been delivered. According to the report, federal officials still expect to have enough vaccines to meet President Joe Biden’s promise of every American adult being eligible to receive a vaccine by the end of May.
The facility was expected to produce tens of millions of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the coming months.
J&J’s shot won US authorization on February 27. Since then, company executives have repeatedly said they are on track to deliver 20 million doses to the US by the end of March and 100 million doses by the end of June. Overall, J&J aims to produce 1 billion doses in 2021.
J&J did not immediately respond to an Insider request for comment, including if they still expect to meet those commitments.
The company issued a statement on Wednesday evening, which said, “We are pleased we have met our commitment to deliver enough single-shot vaccines by the end of March to enable the full vaccination of more than 20 million people in the United States,” adding that current production rates are, “part of our plan to deliver 100 million single-shot vaccines to the U.S. during the first half of 2021, aiming to deliver those doses by the end of May.”
The statement added, “As with the manufacturing of any complex biologic medication or vaccine, the start-up for a new process includes test runs and quality checks to ensure manufacturing is validated and the end product meets our high-quality standards. This approach includes having dedicated specialists on the ground at the companies that are part of our global manufacturing network to support safety and quality.”
“This quality control process identified one batch of drug substance that did not meet quality standards at Emergent Biosolutions, a site not yet authorized to manufacture drug substance for our COVID-19 vaccine. This batch was never advanced to the filling and finishing stages of our manufacturing process,” the statement added.
According to Politico, US officials confirmed that the mixup took place and said would affect future shipments of the J&J vaccine.
The Biden administration reportedly asked J&J to directly supervise vaccine production at the Emergent BioSolutions facility going forward, and Politico reported that having the facility back up to regulatory standards could take days, or even weeks.
The company’s vaccine has been applauded by public health experts for its simple logistics. It’s given as a single dose and can be stored at typical refrigerator temperatures for several months.
Last summer, J&J signed a five-year deal with Emergent BioSolutions, a contract manufacturer, to help boost the production of its COVID-19 vaccine. The first two years of the agreement were valued at $480 million, the companies said.
Emergent is a $5 billion, Maryland-based contract manufacturer that is producing both J&J’s and AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccines. To build up its own capacity, the company hired about 700 new workers in 2020, with at least 250 brought aboard for COVID-19 work, according to its latest annual corporate filing. Emergent did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider. Its stock was down about 5% Thursday in after-hours trading.
Arkansas became the first state to pass a bill prohibiting doctors from providing gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth following a vote in the state Senate on Monday.
HB 1570, the “Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act,” prohibits trans youth from accessing health care and insurance coverage for gender-affirming care. The bill passed 28-7 in the state Senate. The state House passed the bill earlier this month.
The bill would prohibit doctors from offering gender confirming horomone treatment or surgery to trans youth. Doctors would also be unable to refer minors to other providers for treatment.
The legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk for signature. He has not publicly said whether he supports the legislation. The governor has five days, not including Sunday, to sign or veto the bill before it becomes law.
If signed, the bill would take effect this summer.
Opponents say if the legislation is enacted, it would be the first prohibition of its kind in the US. LGBTQ advocacy groups, child welfare organizations, and medical professionals have criticized the legislation.
Studies have shown children who are unable to access gender-affirming care experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide than trans youth with supportive doctors and families. A 2020 study published in Pediatrics found the earlier transgender youth get care, the less likely they are to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts.
Getting gender-affirming care before puberty can slow or stop some of the changes that are more difficult to reverse like voice deepening, hair growth, and fat distribution.
Arkansas’s HB1570 comes amid a surge of anti-trans bills being considered in state legislatures across the country this year. Insider previously reported that 28 states are voting on anti-trans legislation in 2021.
Arkansas has also proposed two bills that would prevent trans youth from participating in school sports: SB354 and SJR16
Biotech companies are cutting ties with Moncef Slaoui, after the drug industry veteran was accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct.
The allegations stem from Slaoui’s tenure at GlaxoSmithKline, the pharma company said in a statement on Wednesday. The company launched an investigation into the claims and substantiated them, GSK said.
Slaoui left GSK in 2017. Last year, he was tapped by President Donald Trump as the scientific head of the US vaccine effort, then known as Operation Warp Speed. He stepped down from that role in January at the request of the Biden administration.
On Wednesday, GSK said it fired Slaoui from the board of Galvani Bioelectronics, a startup in which it owns a majority stake. Slaoui also exited three other firms: Centessa Pharmaceuticals, Vaxcyte, and Medicxi.
In a statement late Wednesday, Slaoui apologized and said he was stepping back from his professional responsibilities.
“I have the utmost respect for my colleagues and feel terrible that my actions have put a former colleague in an uncomfortable situation. I would like to apologise unreservedly to the employee concerned and I am deeply sorry for any distress caused,” he said in the statement.
‘This simply should not have happened’
In a letter to GSK employees obtained by Insider, CEO Emma Walmsley said that the company received the sexual-harassment complaint in February and that the board “immediately initiated an investigation with an experienced law firm.”
“Protecting the woman who came forward and her privacy has been a critical priority throughout this time,” Walmsley wrote. “This will continue. I respect and admire her courage and strength. I’ve spent many nights lately putting myself in her shoes. More than anything, this simply should not have happened.”
Slaoui, who has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and immunology, spent nearly three decades ascending the ranks at GSK. Then he became well known as the face of the Trump administration’s ambitious effort to develop and mass-produce coronavirus vaccines. In January, he resigned at the request of President Joe Biden’s team.
Slaoui worked at GSK for almost 3 decades
Slaoui started at GSK in 1988 as a bench scientist. By 2006 he had joined GSK’s board of directors, and he oversaw the vaccines business starting in 2009. After retiring from GSK, Slaoui became a venture capitalist, joining the firm Medicxi as a partner in 2017.
Medicxi said on Thursday that Slaoui had stepped down from his role as a partner at the firm.
Vaxcyte, where Slaoui served as chairman, said it requested his resignation when it learned of the allegations against him. Centessa, a biotech startup, said Slaoui has left his role as chief scientific officer.
Slaoui also served on the board of coronavirus-vaccine maker Moderna from 2017 to 2020. In a statement, Moderna said it “was not aware of these or any other allegations of improper conduct by Dr. Slaoui.” The company declined to comment further.
Walmsley said in her memo that she was “shocked and angry about all of this, but I’m resolute.”
“We are in an age of progress with a female CEO, growing ranks of female leaders, new commitments to diverse representation, and a culture that values speaking up,” Walmsley wrote. “I expect everyone to represent GSK with integrity – especially senior leaders.”
A vaccine-research site in Rockville, Maryland, that opened in December 2016 and was named after Slaoui will be renamed, she added.
This article has been updated with Slaoui’s departures from Centessa, Vaxcyte, and Medicxi.
The Senate made history Wednesday by confirming Dr. Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health in a 52-48 vote, making her the highest-ranking openly transgender person in the federal government.
All Democrats and independents in the Senate voted to confirm Levine, while Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke with Republicans to make the confirmation a bipartisan one.
Levine’s confirmation has been praised by LGBTQ advocacy groups.
“President Biden committed to appointing our nation’s most qualified leaders to tackle the pandemic and he delivered in choosing Dr. Levine,” former Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, the president of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Yet the importance of this moment extends well-beyond the health of our nation alone.”
Parker added: “At a time when hateful politicians are weaponizing trans lives for their own perceived political gain, Dr. Levine’s confirmation lends focus to the contributions trans people make to our nation and deflates absurd arguments calling for their exclusion.”
Levine’s nomination faced opposition from religious-rights groups as well as some Republican senators.
The former Pennsylvania health secretary remained calm amid aggressive questioning during her confirmation hearing last month.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky faced backlash after he asked Levine during the hearing if she was a supporter of the “surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia” and believed minors could make “such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?”
Levine responded by saying: “Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed.”
She also told Paul she would discuss the matter further if confirmed.
As assistant secretary of health in the Department of Health and Human Services, Levine will oversee public-health initiatives, and President Joe Biden has said Levine will play an important role in the country’s coronavirus response, according to The Washington Post.
Before serving as Pennsylvania’s health secretary, Levine was the state’s physician general.
In a January statement about her nomination, Biden said she was a “historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead out administration’s health efforts.”
“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic – no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability – and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a statement.
New York’s two Democratic US senators said Friday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo should step down amid allegations from six women that he engaged in sexual harassment.
In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Cuomo “should resign.”
“Confronting and overcoming the COVID crisis requires sure and steady leadership,” the senators said, commending the women for coming forward with their “serious allegations of abuse and misconduct.”
Calling their allegations “credible,” the senators said “it is clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and the people of New York.”
The statement is the clearest sign yet that Cuomo has lost the trust of powerful Democratic leaders from New York. Earlier in the day, a majority of the state’s congressional delegation called on him step down, saying the allegations against him were “alarming.”
President Joe Biden told Americans that relief is on the way in his first prime-time address from the White House on Thursday, marking the year anniversary of the pandemic and the passage this week of Democrats’ $1.9 trillion stimulus package. He also announced that all US adults will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1.
The hope is to return to a pre-pandemic normal, or something close to it, by July 4.
“We all lost something,” Biden said of the pandemic, noting the deaths of more than 500,000 Americans, as well as the loss of new memories that were not made. “It’s the details of life that matter the most. And we miss those details,” he said. “Weddings, birthdays, graduations.”
To get there again, the Biden administration will double the number of federally run mass vaccination centers, including mobile operations and pop-up clinics, supported by more than 6,000 active-duty soldiers, senior White House officials told reporters.
Americans will also be able to locate vaccines in their area by using a new, centralized website. The president will also direct all states to make vaccines available to all adults “no later than May 1,” he said, although Biden cautioned that shouldn’t be taken to mean they will all get one on or near that date.
“We’ll have enough vaccine supply for all adults in America by the end of May,” Biden said Thursday night, pledging a new goal of administering at least two million doses a day. “That’s months ahead of schedule.”
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Heralding the stimulus
Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law earlier on Thursday. He and Vice President Kamala Harris plan to go to Atlanta on Friday to tout the package, the passage of which was a major campaign theme for newly elected Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
“It’s never a good bet to bet against America,” Biden said. “America is coming back.
The package also includes an extension of unemployment benefits, including an additional $300 a week in federal aid. It also includes an expanded child tax credit of up to $3,600 per child, available in monthly payments.
Subsidies for health insurance are also boosted under the legislation, which also provides six months of free coverage for those who have recently lost their employer-provided plan.
Although the stimulus package received no GOP support in Congress, polls suggest it enjoys broad support among the US public, including 6 in 10 Republican voters.
Six women have now accused Gov. Cuomo of inappropriate touching and sexual comments in the workplace. The Albany Police Department said Thursday it was investigating one alleged incident, saying it may rise “to the level of a crime,” The New York Times reported.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James is also conducting an independent investigation. That, however, is expected to take months – amid calls for the governor to step down immediately.
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. He denies the allegations.
It’s not the only scandal facing the governor, however. Cuomo has also been accused of undercounting nursing home deaths amid the COVID-19 pandemic — indeed, his aides were found to have altereed a report to lower the reported number.