HERD IMMUNITY NOW UNLIKELY IN U.S.: Early in the pandemic, when vaccines for the coronavirus were still just a glimmer on the horizon, the term “herd immunity” came to signify the endgame: the point when enough Americans would be protected from the virus so we could be rid of the pathogen and reclaim our lives. Now, more than half of adults in the United States have been inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine. But daily vaccination rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever (New York Times). Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers. It is already clear, however, that the virus is changing too quickly, new variants are spreading too easily and vaccination is proceeding too slowly for herd immunity to be within reach anytime soon.

 

SPECULATION THAT CHENEY COULD EXIT, CREATING OPENING FOR BANKS:  If you want a snapshot of how Trumpified the House Republican Conference is almost six months after the president was booted from the White House, look no further than this quote in The Hill over the weekend: “If a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit,” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) told the publication. “Liz isn’t going to lie to people” (Politico Playbook). Process that for a minute. A House Republican — granted, one who voted for impeachment — suggesting that his colleagues may not want Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in leadership because she won’t lie! (Insert brain-exploding emoji here.) Is Cheney out of a leadership job?  Honestly, we don’t know yet. But what is clear right now is that there is a coordinated effort by Kevin McCarthy  to box her out. It’s notable that one of McCarthy’s new besties in Congress, Republican Study Committee Chair Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who has conference chair ambitions of his own, went on record over the weekend criticizing her. The Republican leader is signaling that if anyone wants to try to force another vote to oust her from the post, he’s not planning to defend her anymore. McCarthy has been refusing to appear with Cheney at press conferences for months and, according to our sources, recently declined to give her a moderating role at the GOP retreat in Orlando, even as he allowed others in leadership to head up panels. Banks wants the job someday. He’s been using his RSC position to build a shadow messaging operation, countering Cheney’s job as conference chair. But Banks is also a white man when there are two before him already. And some Republicans would no doubt want a woman to step forward.

 

'BIG LIE' BECOMING GOP LITMUS TEST: Nearly six months after Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden, rejection of the 2020 election results — dubbed the “Big Lie” by many Democrats — has increasingly become an unofficial litmus test for acceptance in the Republican Party (Washington Post). In January, 147 GOP lawmakers — eight senators and 139 House members — voted in support of objections to the election results, and since then, Republicans from Congress to statehouses to local party organizations have fervently embraced the falsehood. Debra Ell, a Republican organizer in Michigan and fervent supporter of former president Donald Trump, said she has good reason to believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. “I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong, and so we’ve learned to trust when he says something, that he’s not just going to spew something out there that’s wrong and not verified,” she said, referring to Trump’s baseless claims that widespread electoral fraud caused his loss to President Biden in November. “He said the election was not rigged, as Donald Trump had said, so we didn’t agree with that, and then he didn’t blame the Democrats for any election fraud,” said Ell, explaining her frustration with Roe. “He said there was no fraud — again, that’s something that doesn’t line up with what we think really happened — and then he said it’s all Donald Trump’s fault.”

 

UTAH REPUBLICANS BOO, BUT DON'T CENSURE ROMNEY: Utah Republicans loudly booed Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) at a state party convention Saturday, shortly before a failed effort to censure him for his votes to convict former president Donald Trump (Washington Post). A clip from the event in West Valley City, Utah, shows Romney walking up to a lectern to a raucous mix of cheers and louder boos from the nearly 2,000 delegates. “So what do you think about President Biden’s first 100 days?” Romney begins to say, as the jeers intensify. “Now you know me as a person who says what he thinks, and I don’t hide the fact that I wasn’t a fan of our last president’s character issues,” he said, prompting more boos from the crowd. He paused for a few seconds as the booing continued before asking the crowd: “Aren’t you embarrassed?”

 

SULLIVAN TALKS OF VOTER CONFIDENCE: The pandemic saw more people than ever before voting absentee or even by mail, which sparked a lot of outrage among many Republicans who said the expanded access to mail-in voting opens the door for voter fraud. This is something new Indiana Secretary of State Holli Sullivan is privy to in having expertise in cybersecurity when it comes to the state’s elections (Darling, WIBC). “I did carry the bill for the Secretary of State’s office before the 2020 election that enabled and funded the cybersecurity (of elections) that was put in place before the 2020 election in Indiana,” Sullivan told Indy Politics. Sullivan acknowledges that not everyone is confident in the voting process. This is why she is going on a county-by-county tour to talk to election leaders on the local level to gauge voter confidence. “We want to take some information from Hoosiers to understand what their level of voter confidence is post-election,” she said. “They’ve been hearing from places like Georgia and Pennsylvania.” Election results were challenged in those places last year which sparked a lot of speculation over the possibility of voter fraud. Sullivan is making it clear that what goes on in other states as far as the election process has nothing to do with what takes place in Indiana. Looking further ahead, Sullivan feels that voting centers, which allow people to vote anywhere in their county without having to worry about voting specifically within the confines of their district, are the way of the future. “As Hoosiers travel through county lines to go to work now, they want to be able to vote where it’s convenient on their daily path and how they travel,” she said.

 

GOVERNOR SIGNS BILL TO PRIORITIZE BROADBAND ACCESS: Gov. Eric Holcomb recently signed into law legislation supported by State Reps. Bruce Borders (R-Jasonville) and Matt Hostettler (R-Patoka) to prioritize broadband access for students, schools and rural clinics (Howey Politics Indiana). Borders said rural communities throughout the state struggle to get quality access to broadband and high speed internet. Currently, Indiana's infrastructure plan includes the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program, which is available to supply reliable and affordable broadband service to areas of the state without good internet connection through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Under this legislation, OCRA must make it a priority to deploy these grants to unserved areas most in need first. "Especially in the last year, we've seen how large the gaps in broadband access really are," Borders said. "Getting our students, schools and hospital clinics priority access is the first step in closing this digital divide."

 

LUMBER PRICES IN FRENZIED CLIMB TO ALL-TIME HIGH: The frenzied climb in lumber prices is generating superlative profits for sawmill owners. Home buyers, renters and do-it-yourselfers are footing the bill (Wall Street Journal). Wood prices pushed further into record territory last week, a sign that Weyerhaeuser Co., Canfor Corp.  and other sawmill owners are in line for even fatter profits than the record earnings they have been reporting for the first three months of 2021. These firms have emerged as the biggest beneficiaries of the wood boom. They are feasting on a glut of cheap pine trees in the U.S. South while their finished products like lumber and plywood are flying off hardware-store shelves and being bid up by home builders. Lumber futures for May delivery ended Friday at $1,500.50 per thousand board feet, an all-time high and roughly four times the typical price this time of year.

 

COLTS SAY THEY UPGRADED WITH DRAFT: Chris Ballard and Frank Reich sat side-by-side Saturday evening, alternately explaining how they were unable to scratch every itch with seven picks in the NFL Draft, and how quarterback Sam Ehlinger possesses that critical ‘it’ factor, and how defensive ends Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo bring disruptive presences to the defense, and how Kylen Granson is a perfect addition to the tight ends room (Chappell, CBS4). It was a scene that took place at virtually every other NFL headquarters following a draft that consisted of 259 selections, stretched over three days and consumed 13 hours and 42 minutes. “Every GM right now is up here talking to the media, telling them “We just hit a home run,’’’ Ballard said with a wry smile. He paused. “Now, let’s get to the real world."

 

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: We had included Rep. Jim Banks on our earliest 2024 gubernatorial speculation lists, but allies to the congressman say he now appears to be on an accelerated U.S. House leadership track. Banks has told HPI that he will make such a decision after this year and probably after the 2022 elections. - Brian A. Howey

 

Campaigns

 

BAD NIGHT FOR TEXAS DEMOCRATS: Democrats hoping for some encouraging signs in Texas did not find any on Saturday in a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat. Instead, they found themselves locked out of a runoff that will now see two Republicans battle for the seat in northern Texas (New York Times). The two Republicans — Susan Wright, who was endorsed by President Donald J. Trump, and State Representative Jake Ellzey — emerged as the top vote-getters in a 23-candidate, all-party special election to replace Mrs. Wright’s husband, U.S. Representative Ron Wright, who this year became the first congressman to die of Covid-19.

 

General Assembly

 

BRINEGAR LAUDS SESSION: State lawmakers came through in big ways for business and manufacturing interests this year by protecting employers from COVID-19 liability lawsuits, creating a $500 million regional grant program, providing $60 million in pandemic relief for small businesses and maintaining healthy state reserves (Berggoetz, IBJ). “Obviously, when you get money you weren’t expecting, lawmakers had the opportunity to make almost everyone happy,” said Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve had lots and lots of victories to celebrate.”

 

Congress

 

THE SENATE and THE HOUSE are out all week.

 

State

 

ISDH: SUNDAY COVID STATS - The Indiana Department of Health announced Sunday that 1,072 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at state and private laboratories. That brings to 722,646 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard. To date, 12,937 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 11 from the previous day. Another 412 probable deaths have been reported to date based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. A total of 3,392,361 unique individuals have been tested in Indiana, up from 3,387,503 on Saturday. A total of 9,846,031 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to the state Department of Health since Feb. 26, 2020.

 

Nation

 

WHITE HOUSE: HARRIS TO HEAD SPACE COUNCIL - The Biden administration over the weekend announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will helm the National Space Council, just as her predecessor, former Vice President Mike Pence, did before her (CBS News). "As I've said before: In America, when we shoot for the moon, we plant our flag on it. I am honored to lead our National Space Council," the vice president tweeted following the announcement.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN, HARRIS SCHEDULES - President Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 8 a.m. He and first lady Jill Biden will leave the White House at 8:40 a.m. for Newport News, Va., arriving at 9:45 a.m. They’ll visit Yorktown Elementary School at 10:30 a.m. and depart Newport News at 11:35 a.m., arriving in Chesapeake, Va., at 11:55 a.m. They’ll visit an HVAC workshop at Tidewater Community College at 1:05 p.m. and deliver remarks at the school at 1:30 p.m. Then they’ll leave from Chesapeake at 2:30 p.m., stopping in Norfolk before reaching the White House at 4 p.m. VP Harris will ceremonially swear in Bill Nelson as NASA administrator at 9:50 a.m. and Samantha Power as USAID administrator at 1:30 p.m. in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  Biden will speak Tuesday about the pandemic response and vaccination campaign. On Wednesday, he’ll speak about the American Rescue Plan implementation. He’ll hit the road again Thursday, heading to Lake Charles, La., and New Orleans to talk water infrastructure and jobs, including a tour of the Carrollton Water Plant. On Friday, Biden will speak about the economy and go to Camp David for the weekend.

 

SCOTUS: JUSTICE THOMAS BECOMES TALKATIVE - Justice Clarence Thomas, who once went a decade without asking a question from the Supreme Court bench, is about to complete a term in which he was an active participant in every single argument (New York Times). Justice Thomas’s switch from monkish silence to gregarious engagement is a byproduct of the pandemic, during which the court has heard arguments by telephone. The justices now ask questions one at a time, in order of seniority. Justice Thomas, who joined the court in 1991, goes second, right after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., asking probing questions in his distinctive baritone. “It’s been a lemonade out of lemons situation,” said Helgi C. Walker, a lawyer with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who served as a law clerk to the justice. “I’m just thrilled that more people get to hear the Justice Thomas that we all know.”

 

MLB: REDS NIP CUBS 13-12 - Nick Castellanos hit a game-ending RBI single in the 10th inning, lifting the Cincinnati Reds to a wild 13-12 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday (ESPN). Jesse Winker began the Cincinnati 10th on second and advanced on Willson Contreras' passed ball. Castellanos then cleared a five-man infield when he poked a liner into center field against Craig Kimbrel (0-1). "It is always great to win a game like that," Reds manager David Bell said. "Even when you don't know how it is going to turn out, it is fun to watch two good teams going at it. It is easy to feel that way when you win, but you have to enjoy a game like this."

 

MLB: CLEVELAND BLANKS CHISOX 5-0 -  José Ramirez and Cesar Hernandez homered, Amed Rosario had three hits and the Cleveland Indians beat the Chicago White Sox 5-0 on Sunday (ESPN). Zach Plesac and three relievers limited the White Sox to four hits as Cleveland took two of three in a series between AL Central foes that both made the playoffs last year. The Indians have won five of their last seven. Andrew Vaughn had two hits for the White Sox, who had won seven of nine.

 

Sunday Talk

 

BLINKEN EXPECTS WORLD TO STAND UP TO CHINA: Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday expressed optimism about the United States' ability to stand up to China as it works to grow its influence and become the world's dominant power. In a wide-ranging interview with “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday, Blinken told CBS’s Norah O’Donnell that the U.S. does not have “the luxury of not dealing with China.” “There are real complexities to the relationship, whether it's the adversarial piece, whether it's the competitive piece, whether it's the cooperative piece,” Blinken said.

 

GOTTLIEB ON KIDS AND VACCINE: Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Sunday predicted that 10 million kids would be vaccinated against the coronavirus before fall if the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use on younger teens. During an appearance on CBS’s "Face The Nation," Gottlieb, who sits on Pfizer's board of directors, told host John Dickerson he thinks as many as 5 million children between the ages of 12 and 15 will immediately get vaccinated once the company's vaccine is approved for the age group, with another 5 million to 7 million gradually being vaccinated before the start of the next school year. "Look, I'm hopeful that the FDA is going to authorize the Pfizer vaccine, the company I'm on the board of, [which] has applied for permission to start giving its vaccine to 12- to 15-year-olds," Gottlieb told Dickerson. "I'm hopeful the FDA is going to authorize that in a very short time period. And I think once that gets authorized, I think you'll pick up probably 5 million kids [who] will get immediately vaccinated. There's about 17 million children between the age of 12 and 15. I think we'll pick up about 5 million immediately. I think probably another 5 million, 5 [million] to 7 million, would get vaccinated over the course of the summer before the school year."

 

HILLARY SAYS BIDEN 'LESS CONSTRAINED: Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gave her assessment of President Biden’s first 100 days in an interview aired on Sunday where she said Biden was less “constrained” than previous Democratic presidents due to the prior administration.  While appearing on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” host Fareed Zakaria asked Clinton how she felt about Biden’s wide-reaching proposals so far, noting that her husband, former President Clinton, had once said in a State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over.” “I really think it's a new age,” Clinton said. “And in part because what had to happen in the 90’s did happen, there was a lot of, you know, positive economic growth that was aided and abetted by government policy, and huge amounts of advancement for people up and down the income scale.”

 

SANDERS KNOCKS CARVILLE: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) rebuked James Carville on Sunday after the Democratic strategist suggested that the party can't pass any progressive legislation that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) does not support due to its tenuous Senate majority. In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Sanders knocked the political consultant, who is best known for his work on former President Clinton's campaign, telling host Chuck Todd that Carville was not "terribly relevant to what happens in Congress right now." "James Carville can live in his world," the senator added.

 

SANDERS SAYS DRUG COMPANIES SHOULD GIVE UP VAX RIGHTS: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is calling on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to grant a patent waiver allowing countries to manufacture generic versions of Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines, saying it is "morally objectionable" that poor countries are experiencing massive surges of the virus while rich countries recover. In an interview on Sunday with NBC's "Meet the Press," Sanders said that public health plays a role in his argument, warning that new variants that arise in India and other nations experiencing surges could "come back and bite us at one point or another." "We should deal with this issue through the World Trade Organization ... . And I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies when millions of lives are at stake around the world, yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so that they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries," Sanders said.

 

COLLINS SAYS GOP 'NOT LED BY ONE PERSON': Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on Sunday that the Republican Party is not led by one person, appearing to push back on the notion that former President Trump is the leader of the GOP. Collins was responding to a recent event in Utah during which fellow GOP Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) was booed by a crowd of people after he said he wasn’t a fan of Trump’s “character issues." “I was appalled. Mitt Romney is an outstanding senator who serves his state and our country well,” said Collins while appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union.” She called on her fellow Republicans to remember the “fundamental principles” of their party such as “belief in personal responsibility, individual freedom, opportunity, free markets, a strong national defense.” “We are not a party that is led by just one person,” Collins added.

 

Local

 

SOUTH BEND: PD TAPE TRIAL BEGINS TUESDAY — After nearly nine years and millions of dollars in legal fees, the fate of some recordings in the South Bend “police tapes” scandal could soon be determined as the case heads to trial next week (Mazurek, South Bend Tribune). Starting Thursday, St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Steven Hostetler is scheduled to preside over a week-long jury trial to decide whether certain secretly recorded conversations of former and current South Bend police officers, which allegedly contain racist comments and discussions of illegal activity, can be publicly released. The trial will mark a significant step in a long-running legal battle between the South Bend Common Council, which has acted to have the recordings released, and current and former South Bend officers, who seek to prevent the tapes’ disclosure. The officers believe the conversations were recorded illegally under federal wiretap laws.

 

MICHIGAN CITY GROUPS TACKLING FOOD DESERT PROBLEM: The Economic Development Corporation Michigan City seeks to solve the food desert problem in parts of Michigan City where fresh, healthy food isn't easily accessible to residents (Pete, NWI Times). The economic development agency is partnering with the Purdue Extension to do a study that will collect data and gather community input to come up with evidence-based solutions to improve access to good nutrition, such as by bringing in co-ops or grocery stores to deprived neighborhoods. “We are grateful for our partners on this project, which is necessary to identify solutions that will best address the food access issue. Horizon, Centier and Franciscan Alliance are all helping support this study,” EDCMC Executive Director Clarence L. Hulse said. “The study will utilize community meetings, surveys and data breakdowns to really dig deep to identify issues and possible solutions for bringing food to the table of those most in need.” The east and west sides of Michigan City have been designated food deserts, meaning they have high poverty rates and low accessibility to fresh, nutrient-rich food such as is found at supermarkets and sit-down restaurants.

 

JEFFERSONVILLE: MAYOR MOORE VETOES SEWER ORDINANCE — Mayor Mike Moore's veto of a sewer ordinance was met with pointed reactions from multiple Jeffersonville City Council members Thursday, deepening the divide between the administration and the fiscal body over an issue that could affect future development at River Ridge Commerce Center (News & Tribune).