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With minimum wage hike out, Covid relief package has become easier to pass

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Activists appeal for a $15 minimum wage near the Capitol in Washington
Activists appeal for a $15 minimum wage near the Capitol in Washington, on Feb. 25, 2021.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

WASHINGTON — It’s been a disappointing past week for the new Biden White House and its progressive allies.

Neera Tanden’s nomination as Office of Management and Budget director is on life support; the Senate parliamentarian nixed the $15 per-hour minimum wage hike from being part of the reconciliation package; and Team Biden still doesn’t have a legislative victory under its belt (Barack Obama, by comparison, had his stimulus pass Feb. 17, 2009).

But all of that disappointment will wash away if/when President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill — which is more than twice the size of Obama’s stimulus — gets signed into law.

At the end of the day, the $15 minimum wage provision was actually an obstacle to the relief bill’s passage. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., were opposed to $15, while Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., suggested she might vote against the relief bill – if the parliamentarian ruled that the hike was permissible, but Democrats caved on the $15 wage to satisfy Manchin and Sinema.

Bottom line: Democrats didn’t have 50 Senate votes to pass a $15 minimum wage increase, and the entire debate was complicating the rest of the Covid-19 relief package.

So if the goal was having the least amount of drama before passing the bill, then the Senate parliamentarian did Biden and the Democrats a big favor (and it’s maybe the reason why Biden had already been signaling that the minimum wage hike wasn’t going to survive).

Now, there’s a legitimate debate for Biden and the Democrats on what they do next on the minimum wage. Do they try to pass a standalone hike to $15? Somewhere lower but tied to inflation? Or do they take tax deductions away from corporations that don't pay a $15-per-hour minimum wage, as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called for after the parliamentarian ruling?

But when it comes to the Covid-19 relief bill itself, the political reality is now clearer than ever — it’s gotten much easier to pass.

Tweet of the day

With Trump out of the picture, politicians are being held to higher standards

Ted Cruz, Andrew Cuomo and Neera Tanden have this in common: Their controversies have got a whole lot more attention with Donald Trump out of the headlines.

In fact, it’s possible to imagine a world where Trump is still president, and those Cruz/Cuomo/Tanden stories aren’t getting the same level of scrutiny — or they’re being excused more because they aren’t as problematic as whatever Trump is doing.

With Trump out of the picture, politicians and political actors are being held to higher standards (whether you agree with them or not).

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

$2 billion: How much the U.S. will send to a global vaccine program aimed at developing nations.

$16: What Costco will raise its hourly pay to as the minimum wage fight keeps brewing in Congress.

28,513,285: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 75,236 more than yesterday morning.)

510,760: The number of deaths in the U.S. from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 2,589 more than yesterday morning.)

52,669: The number of people currently hospitalized with the coronavirus in the U.S.

349.8 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the U.S. so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

68,274,117: Number of vaccination doses administered in the U.S.

21,555,117: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

62: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

Another Biden Cabinet pick gets confirmed

On Wednesday, Biden said he was disappointed that more of his Cabinet nominees hadn’t been confirmed. And while he inched closer to the goal of a full Cabinet on Thursday with Jennifer Granholm’s confirmation, the reality is Biden is not much farther behind Trump’s Cabinet timeline.

By Feb. 26 2017, Trump had 12 confirmed Cabinet secretaries:

  • Jeff Sessions (Attorney General)
  • James Mattis (Defense)
  • Betsy DeVos (Education)
  • Tom Price (HHS)
  • John Kelly (DHS)
  • Rex Tillerson (State)
  • Elaine Chao (Transportation)
  • Steven Mnuchin (Treasury)
  • David Shulkin (VA)
  • Scott Pruitt (EPA)
  • Mick Mulvaney (OMB)
  • Nikki Haley (U.N. ambassador)

By comparison, Biden now has 10 confirmed Cabinet secretaries. On Monday, the Senate is set to vote on Education nominee Miguel Cardona and Commerce pick Gina Raimondo.

But both Biden and Trump trail Barack Obama’s Cabinet formation — by Feb. 26 2009, Obama had a nearly full Cabinet with 14 confirmed Cabinet secretaries, plus one holdover from the George W. Bush administration (Robert Gates who was defense secretary).

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Here’s what you need to know about yesterday’s U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

Biden spoke with the Saudi king ahead of the release of a report implicating his son in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Vice President Kamala Harris is getting up to speed on foreign policy.

Could Democrats fire the parliamentarian? It’s been done once before.

Mitch McConnell says he would “absolutely” support Trump if he’s the nominee in 2024.

Politico traces the rise of Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Trump voters don’t like Biden, but they might be on board with his Covid-19 relief plan.

The House has passed a sweeping LGBTQ rights bill, but it faces a tougher road in the Senate.

The Capitol Police chief said yesterday that domestic militia groups “want to blow up the Capitol.”

The Washington Post has a good roundup of where things stand for Andrew Cuomo now.