Thursday morning news – February 4, 2021

Biden, Senate Democrats huddle over relief bill » President Biden huddled with top Senate Democrats at the White House on Wednesday to discuss his COVID-19 rescue plan.

BIDEN: It’s great. I told them welcome home. This is their new home, for a while anyway. 

The president told Democratic lawmakers that he’s not married to the exact $1.9 trillion price tag of his proposal. But he said Congress needs to “act fast,” and he also told them to—quote—“go big.” 

He also said he doesn’t want to budge from his proposed $1,400 direct payments to most Americans in the next round of stimulus. 

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke to reporters in front of the White House after the meeting. 

SCHUMER: There’s agreement, universal agreement, we must go big and bold. The picture of Franklin Roosevelt was hovering over all of us and we were very much aware of that. It was alluded to a whole bunch of times. 

Democratic leaders have already laid the groundwork for budget reconciliation. That is a process they could use to pass the relief bill without any Republican support at all. 

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday… 

MCCONNELL: Yesterday, less than a day after several Senate Republicans spent literally two hours meeting with President Biden, Senate Democrats plowed ahead with a partyline vote to set the table for a partisan jam. 

Republicans have asked Biden to consider a more targeted $600 billion counterproposal. 

Coronavirus cases falling, but experts warn against Super Bowl parties » The United States has more than cut daily coronavirus infections in half over the past month. 

On January 8th, new cases peaked around 300,000 per day. Using a moving three-day average, that number is now at 118,000. 

But much of that early January surge was due to holiday gatherings. And President Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci is now urging Americans to skip the Super Bowl parties this year. 

FAUCI: As much fun as it is to get together in a big Super Bowl party, now is not the time to do that. Watch the game and enjoy it, but do it with your family or with people that are in your household. 

Fauci also said Wednesday that the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine could get a green light from the FDA within the next week or so. 

Study: First dose of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine provides 12 week protection » Meantime, the British government is hailing a new study on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The study suggests that a single dose provides a high level of protection for 12 weeks. 

Dr. Andrew Pollard is head of the Oxford Vaccine Group. He told Sky News… 

POLLARD: In those three months from when the first dose is given—and of course, that’s where many people are at the moment, they’re in that period—once the immune response has kicked in, which takes two to three weeks, there is sustained protection right up until the point that the second dose is given. 

Some have criticized the British government’s strategy of delaying the second shot so it can protect more people quickly with a first dose. But British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the preliminary findings from Oxford University support that strategy. 

The Oxford results also show the vaccine cut transmission of the virus by two-thirds and prevented severe disease.

Myanmar military charges Suu Kyi » The military in Myanmar gave itself a formal reason to detain ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, charging her with possessing illegally imported walkie-talkies.

Emerlynne Gil with Amnesty International said it was clearly a politically motivated charge. 

GIL: It is a way for the military to entrench its impunity by ruling through fear and intimidation. 

The military placed Suu Kyi and other political leaders under house arrest after seizing power on Monday. 

And independent analyst Larry Jagan said commanders want her out of the way. 

JAGAN: There’s little doubt that the game plan is to try and silence Aung San Suu Kyi to try and prevent her having a political future in the country and to prevent her from having any influence on future elections. 

The National League for Democracy confirmed the charge against Suu Kyi, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. The group also said the country’s ousted president, Win Myint, was charged with violating the natural disaster management law. 

U.S., European leaders weighing response to Russian crackdown on opposition » President Biden has talked with European allies about taking action against Russia. That after a Russian court sentenced opposition leader Alexei Navalny to more than two years in prison. 

And Russian activists on Wednesday reported more than 1,400 new arrests in the crackdown on protesters.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at the White House…

PSAKI: The president, of course, reserves the right to response in the manner and course of his choosing at any point in time. But we’re going to let this review complete, and then our policy teams will make decisions about any specific steps they’ll take in response. 

The response could include economic sanctions. 

European leaders are speaking out against the crackdown on free speech in Russia. 

French President Emmanuel Macron said “a political disagreement is never a crime.” And German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said the ruling was “far from the principles of rule of law.” 

Moscow shrugged off the criticism, calling the response of Western nations “hysterics.”

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) A sign is posted “COVID-19 testing in NOT available at this location,” on the doors of a CVS pharmacy in Los Angeles Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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