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Biden, Congress face big week

WASHINGTON — It’s a consequential week for President Joe Biden’s agenda, as Democratic leaders trim back his $3.5 trillion tax and spending package to win over remaining lawmakers and work to quickly pass legislation to avoid a federal shutdown.

Biden’s domestic agenda is hanging in the balance, at risk of collapse and political fallout if he and Democratic leaders cannot pull their party together to deliver what could be a signature piece of legislation and the biggest overhaul of government priorities in decades. Over the weekend, Biden personally spoke with lawmakers on possible steps, according to a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the private conversations.

An expected Monday vote on a related $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package is now postponed until Thursday, amid ongoing negotiations. More immediately, the Senate has a test vote set Monday to keep the government funded and avert a federal debt default before Thursday’s fiscal yearend deadline. That measure stands to run into a blockade by Republican senators — ensuring lawmakers will have to try again later in the week.

“Let me just say, it’s an eventful week,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Biden, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are deep into negotiations over the president’s broader proposal, which is being chiseled back to win over key senators and a few House lawmakers who have so far refused the $3.5 trillion price tag and the tax increases on corporations and the wealthy to pay for it.

Behind-the-scenes talks churned, allowing for needed breathing room after Monday’s anticipated vote on the companion $1 trillion public works measure was postponed. The two bills are related, and centrists and progressive factions are at odds at prioritizing one ahead of the other. Pelosi announced the Thursday vote in a letter late Sunday evening to colleagues, noting it’s also a deadline for related transportation programs in the infrastructure bill.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who led a group of House moderates in a securing a vote on the slimmer infrastructure bill, said earlier Sunday he wouldn’t be bothered by a slight delay. He was optimistic both pieces of legislation could be resolved this week.

The more difficult action now lies in the Senate, as Democrats are under pressure to amass the votes for Biden’s big package. It would provide an expansion of existing health, education and child care programs for Americans young and old, alongside new federal efforts to curb climate change.

Republicans are lockstep opposed to Biden’s proposal, which would be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate, from 21% to 26.5% on businesses earning more than $5 million a year, and raising the top rate on individuals from 37% to 39.6% for those earning more than $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples.

Two Democratic holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also have said they won’t support a bill of that size. Manchin has previously proposed spending of $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion.

Asked Sunday on ABC if she agrees the final number on the so-called reconciliation bill will be “somewhat smaller” than $3.5 trillion, Pelosi responded: “That seems self-evident.”

“We’ll see how the number comes down and what we need,” she added. “I think even those who want a smaller number, support the vision of the president, and this is really transformative.”

Her comments reflected the enormous stakes for the coming week, one that could define the Biden presidency and shape the political contours of next year’s midterm elections.

For Pelosi and Schumer, two veteran political leaders, it is the job of their careers.

Democrats have only a few votes to spare in the House and no votes to spare in the 50-50 Senate, since there is no Republican support expected for Biden’s massive agenda. Some Republican senators did back the $1 trillion public works bill, but now House Republicans are objecting, saying it is too much.

While progressives say they have already compromised enough on Biden’s big bill, having come down from a bill they originally envisioned at $6 trillion, some are also acknowledging the more potential changes.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, didn’t rule out additional cuts to the $3.5 trillion proposal to reach agreement.

“If somebody wants to take something out, we need to hear what that is,” she said.

The House Budget Committee on Saturday advanced a first version of the $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill, though one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face.

Pelosi suggested that House-Senate agreement could be reached this week, depending on rulings from the Senate parliamentarian on what provisions could be included.

The overall bill embodies the crux of Biden’s top domestic goals, with billions for rebuilding infrastructure, tackling climate change and expanding or introducing a range of services, from free prekindergarten and to child tax breaks to dental, vision and hearing aid care for older Americans.

While Democrats are largely in agreement on Biden’s vision — many ran their campaigns on the longstanding party priorities — stubborn disputes remain. Among them are splits over which initiatives should be reshaped, including how to push toward cleaner energy or to lower prescription drug costs.

Republicans say the proposal isn’t needed and can’t be afforded given accumulated federal debt exceeding $28 trillion. They also argue that it reflects Democrats’ drive to insert government into people’s lives.

Gottheimer spoke to CNN’s “State of the Union” and Jayapal appeared on CBS’ ”Face the Nation.”


Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

A night to remember Pickett Chapel

Efforts to restore Pickett Chapel into a museum for local black history remain impassioned and underway. This weekend was no exception as guests flocked to Capitol Theatre for a night of fine dining, local cocktails and community coming together.

The event was hosted by the Wilson County Black History Committee and formally called Celebration of Pickett Chapel.

A critical part of the restoration project requires raising enough money for the WCBHC’s portion of a $50,000 match grant. Representatives from the WCBHC hope the Saturday night fundraiser helps get them to where they need to be.

For the guests in attendance though, it was a night to recall fond memories from Pickett Chapel. Several of the people in the audience had been members of Pickett Chapel predating its move to Pickett Rucker UMC.

One of those congregants was Pauline Holmes. Holmes was born in Lebanon and raised going to Pickett Chapel.

“Going there as a child was a beautiful thing,” Holmes said. “There were activities for children of all ages. The church made sure kids and the whole family were engaged.”

Holmes was attending Saturday’s event with her husband, John. While John Holmes isn’t from Lebanon originally, he said he “married into the church.”

He’s also glad to see such effort being undertaken to preserve a vital component of the city’s history. “With so much getting built around it, I’m glad someone is working to save what’s already there,” he said.

Speaking before the audience was Phil Hodge, the state archaeologist. He explained the organization’s long-term goal of starting a museum that focuses on the black history and culture in Lebanon.

“It’s about the only building of that age still around,” he said. “It was unique because black and white communities blended together there.”

Another former parishioner, Diana Griffith, said it was a great church to go to as a child. “We just had fun there,” she said at the fundraiser. “I think it’s wonderful that it’s going to become a black history museum.”

Lebanon City Councilor Camille Burdine said, “One of my favorite places, where I live and work and play is in the historic area of our square.”

She said she was delighted to participate in any event that promotes prominent pieces of Lebanon history. “Having Pickett Chapel in this area is special. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Wilson County and I think anyone who can should support the restoration.”

Referring to the grant and the committee’s efforts to reach its fundraising goal, the councilor added, “It’s been a long time coming, and I hope this will be the year we get this pledge done.”

Horror film festival set for Lebanon debut

The organizer of an independent horror film festival believes he’s found just the right place, Lebanon’s Capitol Theatre.

The Macabre Faire Film Festival starts Thursday and runs through the weekend. It will feature 100 films, seminars, meet-and-greets, a red carpet and awards for the different horror categories.

Festival founder and director Adam Ginsberg started Twitch Twitch Productions with his wife Elsie Martinez-Ginsberg when the couple lived in New York. Over the years what began as a haunted house in the backyard grew into an official, judged film festival by 2012.

Called the “Sundance with Fangs,” by Newsday Long Island, the festival now welcomes contestants in categories spanning horror, science fiction and fantasy. The only real requirement is that it has some scary elements.

Martinez-Ginsberg once told her husband, “I don’t mind a love story, so long as there is a monster under the bed.”

The last time the event was held was in 2018 in New York, so this will be the first time it’s held in Lebanon. The reason for Ginsberg’s relocation to Middle Tennessee was originally for a different reason. His son, Addison, wanted to attend film school in Nashville. It was when they found Lebanon and the Capitol Theatre that they knew they’d found their venue.

“I just loved the noir feel, the first time I saw it,” Ginsberg said of the Lebanon theater. While this may be the first time it’s held in Lebanon, Ginsberg is certain it won’t be the last. In fact, the festival is already booked again for the Capitol Theatre next year.

Ginsberg now runs the festival with Addison. His wife passed away last year. He said that he sees the festival as an homage to his late wife, noting that none of it would have been possible without her.

Furthermore, he hopes to put Lebanon on the film festival map such as other iconic festivals like Cannes, Sundance or Telluride, only with the specialization of horror. In a few years, he sees no reason why it couldn’t achieve that scale. He said he can see no better way to honor his late wife than to make her vision a reality.

Who can enter

Contestants make submissions via FilmFreeway, an organization that brands itself as “the number one way to enter film festivals and screenplay contests.”

FilmFreeway gives applicants the choice of which festivals they would like to enter their movies, creating a more accessible reach for producers of narrow means.

Ginsberg said FilmFreeway makes it straightforward to “run and judge your festival,” and that it’s a great way for festivals to support themselves, because filmmakers pay to have their submissions entered.

All submitted films are pre-screened by select judges. Then the films are passed onto another set of judges consisting of more filmmakers, film critics, genre film fans and or seasoned actors to choose the official selections.

Narrowing down to 100 films wasn’t easy for Ginsberg and his son, but they were able to do it eventually. “We’ve got a lot of great movies. Several hundred came in. It’s not easy to get it down to our number, but we really liked the ring of 100 movies in four days.”

A day at Macabre Faire

The festival will have a pretty open format, according to Ginsberg, who said each day there will be multiple seminars going on. Guests are welcome to come and go. The seminars will be held in the upstairs event space at the theater. Meanwhile, the films will be screened downstairs in the theater’s main room.

Each day around 3 p.m. there will be a break from the film screenings, for a question and answer session with some of the filmmakers.

Ginsberg said in an ideal situation without COVID, they’d have the place packed with a representative from each film. While he expects numbers to be down, he’s excited about those who will be there and the opportunities it will present.

There will be food trucks set up in the theater’s parking lot as well as a mobile bar for drinks. Ginsberg said that there would be vendors inside but that they are limited as to maintain the atmosphere of the festival.

Ginsberg encourages guests to dress up in their favorite monster costumes. “We love our monsters at Macabre Faire,” he said.


Ginsberg said there will be 34 different categories ranging from best screenplays to costume design to acting and editing awards.

What ought to be a lot of fun is the red carpet event on set for Saturday night. Arriving filmmakers will be ushered into the theatre in true Hollywood style, with a red carpet and flash photography.

Ginsberg wants this festival to be inclusive, so if a guest wishes to participate in the red carpet experience they can for a slight admission upgrade.

Tickets can be purchased at macabrefairefilmfestival.com. Four-day all-access passes start are $95. Single, double and triple day passes are available as well. If purchased online bring proof of purchase, and a wristband will be provided at the door.

Faith groups aid migrants, denounce mistreatment

Faith-based groups — many of them longtime advocates for a more welcoming immigration policy — have been scrambling to keep up with fast-paced developments in the Haitian migrant crisis, trying to assist those in need while assailing the harsh Border Patrol tactics employed against them.

Before thousands of Haitian migrants dispersed last week from a camp in the border city of Del Rio, Texas, a coalition of churches and other groups was providing them with sandwiches, water and other essentials. Since dispersing, many of the migrants have received help from faith-based groups in Houston and El Paso as they seek to connect with relatives and sponsors throughout the United States.

Immigration hardliners criticize some of the efforts by religious activists, saying their efforts encourage still more migrants to come. But those providing the assistance see it as an extension of their religious mandate to help the needy.

“We are apolitical,” said Carlos Villareal, a Houston-area leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has mobilized volunteers at a short-term transition center in Houston to assist hundreds of migrants arriving from Del Rio.

“Our concern is mainly with the families, that we can help them,” Villareal said. “It’s also the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

The transition center was set up earlier this year at the request of the White House in response to earlier migrant surges, Villareal said. It provides the families with a place to shower, have a meal, and contact sponsors who would pay for their plane or bus tickets to join them while their cases go through the immigration process.

Most of the Haitian migrants are expected to ask immigration judges for asylum or some other legal status — requests that could be denied and lead to eventual deportation.

Villareal says he encounters migrants with stories similar to that of his parents, who immigrated from Mexico in search of a better life, not to be a burden on society.

“These people are just here seeking an opportunity,” he said.

Mobilization of faith-based groups began almost from the start of the sudden migrant surge in Del Rio, with Haitians converging from various Latin American countries to which they had fled from their beleaguered Caribbean homeland.

Volunteers from a coalition of Christian churches and other groups in that region along the U.S.-Mexico border prepared more than 10,000 sandwiches for Haitian migrants camping under the bridge that connects Del Rio with Mexico’s Ciudad Acuña, said Shon Young, president of the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition.

Their work began with about 20 churches and grew to more than 100 churches and other organizations, said Young, who is associate pastor at City Church Del Rio.

His church also collected donations, and the coalition set up an Amazon wish list that included juices, hand sanitizer and snacks. The response — from U.S. and Haitian organizations and from far-flung individual donors — has been overwhelming, Young said.

The camp held more than 14,000 people at its peak. Many of the Haitian migrants are being expelled and flown back to Haiti, but many others who gathered in Del Rio have been released in the United States, according to two U.S. officials.

The Department of Homeland Security bused Haitians from Del Rio to El Paso, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border, and added flights to Tucson, Arizona, one of the officials said. They are processed by the Border Patrol at those locations.

The El Paso Baptist Association has been offering migrants COVID-19 testing and providing food, clothes and a place to sleep while they contact their family members or others sponsors. Since late July, the association has assisted more than 300 migrants, most of them Haitian, and was expecting many more to arrive from Del Rio, said Larry Floyd, the group’s executive director.

Catholic-led and other faith-based nonprofits have long been at the forefront of efforts to support migrants and asylum seekers along the Mexican border, providing crucial services on both sides of the Rio Grande.

Pope Francis has praised the work of Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Other well-known groups include Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which provides housing and other assistance to migrants, and Annunciation House in El Paso, which provides shelter to migrants while they arrange travel to other U.S. cities.

Annunciation House, which says its mission is based on Catholic social justice teaching, has geared up to receive several hundred migrants coming from Del Rio, said executive director Ruben Garcia.

“First they’re tested,” Garcia said. “Once they’re COVID tested, we begin to accommodate them.”

At times, faith-based groups have injected themselves into a polarizing national debate over immigration policies. Although many praise their work to help migrants, some critics say it encourages more people to come to the U.S.

“A lot of these religious groups conflate two issues ... they are rendering assistance to people who are in front of them who need help. That’s different from advocating government policy that would import more people like that,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. The center favors more restrictive immigration policies.

Many religious leaders joined a call last week organized by the national nonprofit network Faith in Action urging President Joe Biden’s administration to stop deporting migrants to Haiti without giving them a chance to seek asylum in the U.S. and to protest their treatment after images surfaced of Border Patrol agents on horseback using aggressive tactics.

“That is unconscionable and cannot be tolerated today,” said the Rev. Alvin Herring, Faith in Action’s executive director.

The Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice has called for more oversight of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The network’s government relations director, Ronnate Asirwatham, says CBP has a “history of systemic abuse and racism.”

The group joined more than 160 Catholic organizations in a letter asking Biden to end Title 42 authority, named for a section of a 1944 public health law that then-President Donald Trump used in March 2020 to effectively end asylum at the Mexican border.

Herring, who traveled to Del Rio with other faith leaders to assess the situation first-hand, says it is vital to press for Biden’s administration to make good on its commitments to migrants.

“We see the singling out of our Haitian brothers and sisters for this despicable abuse, which we believe is racist and immoral,” he said.