Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week
1. New York, New Jersey, & Several Other States Rollback Mask Mandates, Other COVID Mandates as Omicron Surge Recedes
Governor Kathy Hochul will drop New York’s stringent indoor mask mandate on February 9, ending a requirement that businesses ask customers for proof of full vaccination or require mask-wearing at all times, and marking a turning point in the state’s Coronavirus response, according to three people briefed on her decision. The decision will eliminate a rule that prompted legal and interpersonal clashes over mask-wearing, especially in conservative parts of New York. It was set to expire on February 10 and would have required renewing. Governor Hochul is expected to let the mask mandate lapse just as a crushing winter surge in coronavirus cases is finally receding. But it was as yet unclear whether the Governor would renew or drop a separate mask mandate in New York schools that expires in two weeks.
2. House of Representatives Passes Bill to Avert Temporary Government Shutdown
The US House of Representatives on February 8 approved legislation to fund federal government agencies through March 11 and avoid a chaotic shutdown of many of the government’s operations when existing money expires at midnight on February 18. The House voted 272-162 to approve the stop-gap measure that will give Democratic and Republican negotiators in the House and Senate an additional three weeks to work out a deal on a full-year funding bill. The temporary measure, the third since the start of the fiscal year that began on October 1 now goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised prompt action.
3. January Jobs Report Indicates Improving Economic Outlook Despite Omicron
Job growth rose far more than expected in January despite surging Omicron cases that seemingly sent millions of workers to the sidelines, the Labor Department reported February 4. Nonfarm payrolls surged by 467,000 for the month, while the unemployment rate edged higher to 4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Dow Jones estimate was for payroll growth of 150,000 and a 3.9% unemployment rate. The stunning gain came a week after the Biden Administration warned that the numbers could be low due to the pandemic. COVID cases, however, have plunged nationally in recent weeks, with the seven-day moving average down more than 50% since peaking in mid-January, according to the CDC. Most economists had expected January’s number to be tepid due to the virus, though they were looking for stronger gains ahead.
4. Supreme Court Upholds Alabama Challenge To Voting Rights Act
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, allowed a congressional map drawn by Alabama Republicans to remain in place on February 7, freezing a lower court ruling that said the map likely violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the political power of African American voters. The lower court had ordered a new map to be drawn, which could have led to Democrats gaining another seat in the House in the fall. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the three liberal justices in dissent. The justices also said they would hear arguments over the map, adding another potentially explosive issue, concerning the scope of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, to the court’s docket.