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College reopening plans already challenged by the coronavirus

Many colleges’ plans to bring students back to campus this fall are almost certain to crash and burn.

Why it matters: Many families may not be willing to pay full tuition for a semester they know will only involve online classes. But there’s no reason to doubt that bringing college kids back to campus will result in thousands of coronavirus cases, infecting both students and staff.


Where it stands: Nearly half of schools plan to bring students back for in-person classes, 13% will offer only online instruction and 35% will offer a mixture of both, according to the most recent analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Reality check: Before the fall semester has even begun at most schools, colleges’ reopening plans are already crumbling. Some schools are seeing cases spike among sports teams and fraternities, while others are scrambling to lure students back to campus safely with last-minute infrastructure and curriculum changes.

  • More than 6,300 cases have already been linked to colleges in the U.S., The New York Times reported yesterday. Many of the largest outbreaks are at colleges located in coronavirus hotspots like Texas, Florida and Los Angeles.
  • And the nation’s coronavirus testing capacity is already deeply strained, with results taking longer than a week to return in many places. Adding precautionary testing of thousands of college students to this demand may only further strain the system.
  • However, many universities have their own labs on campus, lending them “expertise and infrastructure that is not available to the general public,” said Johns Hopkins’ Caitlin Rivers.

State of play: Some institutions are rolling back room and board fees or are foregoing planned tuition hikes, but most universities are not cutting the cost of tuition while making major adjustments to campus life, higher education economist Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute said.

  • Outdoor classes: Rice University in Houston plans to take some fall courses outside, and will build nine structures on campus to help comply with social distancing guidelines.
  • Testing for Black students: Several Historically Black Universities and Colleges are partnering with nonprofit Testing for America to provide resources and tests for students who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
  • Off-campus housing: Many Cornell University students intend to return to off-campus housing regardless if their classes were online or in-person, and the university feared it would have little authority to mandate testing or restrict students’ behaviors without in-person education.

What we’re watching: Among those colleges that do attempt to begin the semester with in-person classes, even the best-laid plans could fall apart once the virus starts spreading. But it’s a risk they may decide is worth taking.

  • “Resources are really scarce, so I think everybody’s looking at how can they get their students to come back and [be] willing to enroll,” Baum said.
  • And for universities' bank accounts, at least, the best-case scenario may be that classes switch to online after students’ tuition has been paid in full.

In photos: Fortified capitols see only small protests

Small groups of protesters rallied outside fortified statehouses over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some rallies attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as officials took security steps to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, per AP.

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Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December pardon spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

  • Those set to be pardoned before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice and people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

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Members of House and Senate fear for their safety away from a hardened Capitol

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.
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Off the rails: Trump mainlines election conspiracies as Oval Office descends into madness

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 3: The conspiracy goes too far. Trump's outside lawyers plot to seize voting machines and spin theories about communists, spies and computer software.

President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. "Ugh, Sidney," he told the staff in the room before he picked up. "She's getting a little crazy, isn't she? She's really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It's just too much."

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Convicts turn to D.C. fixers as they seek pardons from President Trump

A flood of convicted criminals has retained lobbyists since November’s presidential election to press President Trump for pardons or commutations before he leaves office.

What we're hearing: Among them is Nickie Lum Davis, a Hawaii woman who pleaded guilty last year to abetting an illicit foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low. Trump confidante Matt Schlapp also is seeking a pardon for a former biopharmaceutical executive convicted of fraud less than two months ago.

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Conservatives plot to punish the tech industry for deplatforming Trump

Capitol Hill conservatives are gaming out a multi-front war on the tech industry as retribution for deplatforming President Trump and others on the right, congressional sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: When you're in the minority, you figure out who you are as a party. With Republicans now looking up at the Democrats, they're searching for a unifying issue. This is one, at least for now.

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Kevin McCarthy warned members to not call out colleagues by name, citing potential political violence

Members of the House Republican Conference ignored leader Kevin McCarthy last week when he warned them against criticizing colleagues by name based on intelligence that doing so could trigger more political violence.

Why it matters: McCarthy made clear that name-dropping opponents, instead of spelling out complaints in more general terms, can put a literal target on a politician, especially with tensions so high following the events of Jan. 6.

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