FDA panel greenlights Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine

An FDA advisory panel voted Friday in favor of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine. If the FDA gives the final approval, millions of doses could ship out as early as this weekend. The news comes as the CDC warns declines in cases and hospitalizations may be stalling. Dr. Dara Kass, and ER doctor and medical contributor for Yahoo News, joins CBSN to discuss the latest in the fight against COVID-19.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: Hello, everyone. I'm Lana Zak. Thank you so much for joining me. The US could soon have a third coronavirus vaccine in its arsenal. On Friday, an FDA advisory panel voted to recommend Johnson & Johnson's vaccine for emergency use. The company is now awaiting final approval from the agency.

After that, millions of doses could be shipped out as early as Sunday. Johnson & Johnson has promised to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March and 100 million by June. That's, of course, in addition to the 300 million doses promised by Pfizer and Moderna by the end of July.

Meanwhile, the head of the CDC is warning about a, quote, "very concerning shift in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations." Experts say we could be seeing the beginning effects of new variants. More than 77,000 new cases were confirmed in the US on Thursday. That brings the total number of infections to more than 28.4 million. More than 509,000 lives have been lost.

For more, I am joined by Caitlin Emma. Caitlin is a budget and appropriations reporter for Politico. Caitlin, thanks for being here. So you heard Chris describing the lack of Republican support that President Biden has been able to muster. And previous COVID relief bills have passed with support from Republicans and Democrats alike. Why is this one expected only to pass along party lines?

CAITLIN EMMA: Right. Well, as you said, this is the only COVID relief package so far since the pandemic began that will be passed without bipartisan support. And that is because Democrats are using what's called the budget reconciliation process to pass the president's package. And essentially what that is, is it's a special sort of powerful budget tool that Democrats can use to pass the package through Congress with essentially a simple majority in the Senate.

So they avoid the legislative filibuster, and they can get this package through with only Democratic votes. That being said, that sounds like it should be an easy task. It's not necessarily an easy task. Democrats have a very slim majority in both the House and the Senate, and they can't afford to really lose any Democratic votes.

LANA ZAK: But Caitlin, what are the issues that are keeping Republicans from supporting this? Obviously, one of the big ones was the federal minimum wage, increasing it to $15 an hour. But given that the Senate parliamentarian ruled that out of order and it's not going to be in the Senate bill, are we seeing that Republicans are actually going to come around on this? Or are they still not budging in terms of support? And if so, why not?

CAITLIN EMMA: Right. Well, there are a huge sort of broad array of issues here that Republicans are opposed to. For example, they've been opposed for a very long time to a large amount of additional aid for state and local governments. They fundamentally feel like that money still hasn't been spent, that it shouldn't be going to, quote unquote, "bail out blue states." That has been an issue.

There is Republican concerns with money for schools and whether or not it's going to be spent this year as opposed to the future, whether or not that money is being spent to reopen schools immediately versus being spent later. There's a broad array of issues that Republicans feel like aren't related to the coronavirus pandemic or to vaccines or really core to the public health crisis. And you cited the minimum wage as one issue. That was one of the issues that Republicans and some Democrats felt didn't belong in this package.

But Republicans have been fundamentally opposed to doing something large. They want something much smaller, much more targeted. And they're expected to essentially stick to their guns on this in the next couple weeks.

LANA ZAK: Caitlin, not to get too into the weeds, but I know that there are a lot of our viewers who are really interested in knowing how this minimum wage debate is playing out. As I understand it, the Senate can actually waive the parliamentarian's ruling with a majority vote. In that case, that would mean that Vice President Harris would have to vote to break the 50-50 tie. Is there any indication that Democrats would actually pursue this route? Or have they decided that all right, we didn't have full Democratic support anyway, so minimum wage is just going to have to be a standalone piece of legislation?

CAITLIN EMMA: Right. Like you said, her-- the parliamentarian's opinion is just that. It's an opinion. And Democrats don't necessarily have to stick to it. There's precedent for not sticking to it. In fact, Republicans in 2001 actually fired the parliamentarian over sort of like this dispute over Bush tax cuts at the time.

And this has become a really wedge issue within the Democratic Party in the last 24 hours. You have progressives saying, let's not pull any punches. We should be doing everything we can to get the biggest package possible, and somebody who is not an elected official shouldn't be making those decisions. And on the other hand, you have President Biden, who had a long career in the Senate, is sort of a Senate institutionalist in many ways and really doesn't want to break precedent in that way.

That being said, there probably also isn't enough votes in the Senate among Democrats to overrule the parliamentarian, because you have centrists like Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema who are pretty sticking to their guns in terms of not wanting to, like, cause that much upheaval. So Democrats are expected to align sort of behind the president on this issue, but it's really coming much to the consternation of progressives, both in the House and the Senate.

LANA ZAK: So earlier, we heard House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say that they are absolutely still committed within the Democratic Party and the leadership to get the federal minimum wage increased to $15 an hour. Given what we have learned about it lacking enough support among Democrats to actually likely pass within this COVID-19 relief bill, where does that leave this debate at this point? Is it likely to be something that does get passed? It is, as you say, something that President Biden has said is crucial to how he thinks the American economy gets back up and running. But if there isn't enough support because there's no Republicans supporting it and not enough Democrats supporting it, does this-- does this issue really just die a slow death then?

CAITLIN EMMA: It sort of remains to be seen, right. In sort of the lead-up to the parliamentarian's decision, there's been a lot of discussion about should we keep it at $15? Is that appropriate to apply one base minimum wage increase all across the country? Should it be lowered to something like $11, which Senator Joe Manchin has proposed as being more appropriate for his state?

A handful of Republican senators released a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10, but bar undocumented immigrants from receiving that increase. So there is bipartisan appetite to raise the minimum wage gradually. Any hike that's proposed wouldn't be an immediate hike. It would happen over the course of several years. And certainly, like you said, the president has indicated that this is a huge priority for him, so I don't expect this discussion to go away.

And even in the next couple weeks, I think we'll probably see some efforts among Democrats to try and save some sort of minimum wage action. Currently, there's some discussion about maybe imposing a tax on large profitable-- profitable corporations that refuse to pay their employees a livable wage. It's really unclear whether or not that would sort of survive or even get enough support. But it's certainly not the last that we'll hear of it probably in the near or long term.

LANA ZAK: Well, certainly, we know that-- that Americans are watching to see what happens among their elected leaders on this topic. Caitlin, one last question before you, when we're looking forward to seeing the Senate take up the American Rescue Plan in their debate, do you expect that anything else might be dropped? And how soon do you expect the-- the timeline for approval?

CAITLIN EMMA: Absolutely, I do. Essentially, the process that's being used called the budget reconciliation process comes with a lot of rules and restrictions on it, on what can be included and what can't be included. And what we saw happen with the minimum wage was just that. It sort of ran afoul of these rules, and the parliamentarian said, this isn't going to fly. You need to come up with something else or you need to get rid of it.

So other parts of the president's package will probably face that test in the next couple weeks. The Senate could take this up as early as next week. The House is going to pass it very late tonight, so it will go over to the Senate. Likely, changes will happen in the Senate, and it will have to come back to the House. Ultimately, Congress is working up against this deadline of March 14 when federal unemployment benefits expire, so there really isn't a lot of time to retool major parts of this package.

But certainly, we're going to see changes in the Senate. There's even something called the "vote-a-rama," which sounds just like it is. It's sort of an all-night marathon of voting on amendments. It's very painful to report on, very painful for senators to stand in the chamber all night and watch it happen. But that's going to be happening in the next couple weeks. So I'm sure what the House passes tonight is not the final product.

LANA ZAK: I've covered some of those all-nighters, and they are brutal for everybody involved. All right, Caitlin Emma, thank you.

CAITLIN EMMA: Thank you.