The Daily 202: Biden seeks pandemic reset as cases and deaths flare

with Mariana Alfaro

Load Error

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1974, President Gerald Ford grants former president Richard M. Nixon a “full, free and absolute” pardon for any crimes committed while in office.

Two months after hopefully declaring near-independence from the pandemic, President Biden will give what the White House is calling a “major” speech Thursday to detail a new response to flaring cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 

Biden, who campaigned on promises to smother the coronavirus and revive the economy, will lay out how he “will pull every lever to get the pandemic under control,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday. 

That, of course, means it’s not currently under control, a worrisome diagnosis with the winter months ahead, when tens of millions of Americans head indoors and the coronavirus has shown its ability to thrive.

© Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post President Biden is set to give a “major” speech regarding the coronavirus on Thursday. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

The rise of the delta variant poses serious public health and political problems for Biden, who ran on visions of a more orderly response to a virus that had claimed 403,000 U.S. lives when he took office and has taken about 247,000 since, as well as a more empathetic and organized plan to create jobs. 

Since optimistically declaring in his July 4 speech the country was “closer than ever to declaring our independence” from the pandemic, the president’s approval ratings have slipped below 50 percent in several polls.

Biden, who has given at least five speeches since Independence Day devoted to his pandemic response, may be looking for a reset of sorts in his Thursday remarks. 

He may also be mindful Gallup polling in early August found just 48 percent of Americans say he has laid out a “clear plan” of action against the virus. (Biden did better on that score than governors, at 46 percent, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at 39 percent.) 

The president will “lay out a six-pronged strategy,” leaning on the public and private sectors, said Psaki, who declined to offer more details but pointed to forces that have convinced Americans to get vaccinated. 

She cited “fear of the delta variant,” and mandates from private sector employers as well as school districts. Asked whether Biden still believed the federal government cannot issue national vaccine mandates, Psaki replied: “That’s true.” 

Relying on employer mandates could be tricky, according to polling by The Washington Post and ABC News: “Among unvaccinated workers who are not self-employed, about 7 in 10 say they would likely quit if their employer required them to be vaccinated and did not grant a medical or religious exemption.” 

But majorities of Americans favor requiring people to be vaccinated in order to go to work, eat in restaurants, attend large public events, stay at a hotel, or travel by airplane, according to Gallup polling conducted mid- to late August.

The Biden administration has previously required all active and reserve military personnel to get vaccinated. And the president has required mask-wearing through Jan. 18, 2022 on airplanes, buses and trains, while holding off on making vaccines a condition for travel

But Republicans especially GOP governors of states like Florida and Texas have made strident opposition to vaccine and mask mandates their political calling card. 

As countless observers noted, George Washington required troops under his command to get the smallpox vaccine in 1777. And Ohio schools today require a spate of vaccines, as do countless districts around the country.

In some ways, this is a recurring political problem with Biden’s style of governing. Promising bipartisan action on economic recovery gives Republicans a veto. Vowing to get the pandemic under control requires GOP governors to play along.

Yet the urgency for the president is clear: While Republicans have hammered him over the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the pandemic and the economy appear to be his most severe political liabilities. 

Gallup polling mostly conducted before the pull-out ended show Biden’s job approval ratings dipping before Kabul fell to the Taliban from the mid-50s since taking office down to 49 percent in early- to mid-August. 

The  Post/ABC polling released Sunday found his approval rating on the pandemic slipped to 52 percent from 62 percent in late June. On the economy, it fell from 52 percent in April to 45 percent. His overall rating dropped to 44 percent from 50 percent in June. 

The news isn’t unrelentingly bad for Biden. The past two months have proved the vaccines developed under his predecessor work: The unvaccinated make up the overwhelming majority of Americans who have been hospitalized or died from the virus in recent weeks. 

And data compiled by The Washington Post shows three-quarters of adults in the United States have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, my colleague Derek Hawkins reported yesterday

Moreover, younger Republicans and GOP-leaning independents appear to have become more willing to get the shot(s), according to the Post/ABC polling.

What’s happening now

Travel restrictions are back for U.S. visitors in E.U. nations like Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands, the New York Times reports

Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • “Louisiana officials revoked the licenses of the seven nursing homes that evacuated patients to a warehouse where seven of them died ahead of Hurricane Ida’s landfall last week,” Ashley Cusick writes
  • “As experts debate boosters, vaccinated people are calling their own shots,” Joel Achenbach reports. “We’ve gone through a patch of very confusing guidance,” said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a D.C. think tank. “People are taking matters into their own hands.”
  • South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) “issued an executive order restricting telemedicine abortions and abortion medications, days after she called for a review of the state’s abortion laws,” Bryan Pietsch reports. “The order mandates that abortion medication can be prescribed or dispensed only after an in-person examination by a doctor licensed in South Dakota. It also bans abortion medication from ‘being provided via courier, delivery, telemedicine, or mail service,’ as well as on state grounds or in schools.”

… and beyond

  • Wired Magazine’s Adam Rogers reports on efforts to get rock-solid, definitive data on whether ivermectin can help fight the pandemic. The bottom line? “The best info so far says don’t use it, get vaccinated, and hang in there for the more promising meds being tested.” 
  • The AP’s Jerry Schwartz writes about some of 9/11’s biggest names, and where they are now. “Some we had known well, but came to see in different ways. Others were thrown into public consciousness by unhappy happenstance.”
  • “In the 20 years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, America got its most important job right: Terrorists did not conduct another major attack on U.S. soil,” writes CQ’s John Donnelly. “But in the process of getting that right, America’s military and intelligence services, despite their good intentions, got a lot wrong — strategically, tactically and morally.”

At the table

Today, we’re lunching with the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, Ashish K. Jha. The school just launched an initiative to study the many health and economic impacts of “Long Covid” and explore possible policy responses. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Knox: What is Long Covid? 

Jha: Long Covid is a series of symptoms that people experience after they have recovered from the initial infection. And probably represents a whole host of different conditions that are all being lumped together right now. And we need to sort them out. 

Knox: What are the most common symptoms of Long Covid? 

Jha: They range from things like fatigue, brain fog, some people have ongoing shortness of breath, fevers. Really a whole host of symptoms, but probably fatigue, and feeling like your thinking is not fully clear are probably the most common. 

Knox: What does your new initiative envision? 

Jha: We want to be the place that, first of all, pulls together all of the science and evidence and data on Long Covid and helps people  consumers, patients  really understand what this is. We also want to provide guidance for policymakers and business leaders about how they should be thinking about Long Covid. And that guidance is going to be based on data and analysis that we do to try to quantify how big a deal this is, how much of a burden it is for our society, and what are strategies we should be employing to help people settle back into the workplace or get back on their feet with this syndrome. 

Knox: How much should vaccinated Americans worry about Long Covid? 

Jha: The risk of Long Covid for vaccinated Americans is much, much lower. I don’t think it should be an area of substantial concern. We don’t have great data yet. There are some studies that say that vaccinated people can have ongoing symptoms after a breakthrough infection. But I suspect most of them are mild and are going to resolve. 

Knox: Your announcement calls out evidence gaps. Are these gaps due to the fact the pandemic is not quite two years old, or are there other factors? 

Jha: It’s a combination of the fact that the pandemic has just gotten started and we’ve only started learning about Long Covid recently. But also I don’t think there’s enough being done to study the condition, to really do surveys of populations to figure out how widespread this is. And even when it comes to understanding what are potential therapeutics that could be helpful, there just isn’t enough energy and attention being paid to it. 

For much of the pandemic, we have focused on mortality as the one horrible outcome. And of course it is: We don’t want people to die. But I think we’ve underestimated how much long-term suffering this virus has caused Americans.

And we really need an effort to quantify that, and we really need an effort to quantify that and to create strategies for dealing with it. 

9/11, 20 years later

More Americans say 9/11 changed the United States for worse than for better, a Post-ABC News poll found.

  • “More than 8 in 10 Americans say those events changed the country in a lasting way. Nearly half (46 percent) say the events of 9/11 changed the country for the worse, while 33 percent say they changed the country for the better,” Scott Clement reports. “That represents a shift from 10 years ago when Americans were roughly divided on this question, and it marks an even larger swing from the first anniversary of the attacks in 2002. Back then, 55 percent said the country had changed for the better.”
  • “Americans’ perceptions of safety from terrorist attacks are also at a low ebb, with 49 percent saying the country is safer from terrorism today than before 9/11 — one percentage point from the record low of 48 percent reached in 2010, and down from 64 percent in September 2011, four months after Osama bin Laden was killed.”

Proceedings on the 9/11 case resumed — and then were delayed again.

  • “Guards led the five men, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is accused of being the mastermind of the plot, into the courtroom on Tuesday for the first time since the pandemic halted the pretrial proceedings,” the New York Times’s Carol Rosenberg reports. “A lawyer for Mr. Mohammed had just begun to question the new judge, Col. Matthew N. McCall, about the circumstances of his assignment to the case when a prosecutor, Clayton G. Trivett Jr., announced that the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review had issued a 23-page ruling on a challenge to the military commission judge selection process.”
  • “The delay appears likely to be brief. Even so, the morning’s developments showed how difficult it is to get the proceedings moving.”

The N.Y.P.D. continues using post-9/11 tools on everyday New Yorkers.

  • “Since the fall of the World Trade Center, the security apparatus borne from the Sept. 11 attack on the city has fundamentally changed the way the country’s largest police department operates, altering its approach to finding and foiling terror threats, but also to cracking minor cases,” the Times’s Ali Watkins reports.
  • “New Yorkers simply going about their daily lives routinely encounter post-9/11 digital surveillance tools like facial recognition software, license plate readers or mobile X-ray vans that can see through car doors. Surveillance drones hover above mass demonstrations and protesters say they have been questioned by antiterrorism officers after marches. The department’s Intelligence Division, redesigned in 2002 to confront Al Qaeda operatives, now uses antiterror tactics to fight gang violence and street crime.”

The Biden agenda

Biden wants the sun to provide nearly half of the nation’s electricity by 2050.

  • The goal was unveiled as part of a new White House plan announced this morning, Darryl Fears reports. “The new Energy Department goal would scale up production of solar panels, which provide 3 percent of the nation’s electricity, to 45 percent over the next three decades.”
  • “Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement that the nation could achieve such a rapid shift, citing a new department study that projects solar energy could provide 40 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2035 and employ as many as 1.5 million people without boosting electricity prices. That analysis, however, assumes that Congress would fund several of the clean energy investments and policies that Biden has proposed but that have yet to be enacted.”

Biden’s turbulent summer has Democrats on high alert.

  • “After being buffeted this summer by one crisis after another — Covid, Afghanistan, wildfires in the West and Hurricane Ida in the East — his young presidency is confronting a make-or-break fall,” Politico’s David Siders reports. “Democrats are well aware of what happened to the last two Democratic presidents after a choppy first two years.”
  • “If Biden doesn’t regain his footing within the next few months, many party veterans fear, his party’s chances of holding on to its narrow majorities in Congress are almost non-existent.”
  • “ ‘There’s no good news here. This is all on his watch,’ said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster … ‘You can argue what he’s doing or not doing, but it’s almost irrelevant. If things are chaotic and wrong, it ain’t going to help him.’ ”

Quote of the day

“The evidence is clear: Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, to our economy, and the threat is here. It’s not going to get any better,” Biden said in New York after touring a street in Queens torn up by Ida. “The question — can it get worse? We can stop it from getting worse.”

The latest on Afghanistan

Here’s what we know about the Taliban’s top officials.

  • “Afghanistan’s new caretaker government, announced Tuesday, is made up entirely of hard-line Taliban members. Many of them are known for their closeness to the movement’s late founder — the one-eyed cleric Mohammad Omar — which could complicate efforts to restart the economy and restore relations with the international community,” Rachel Pannett reports
  • “The acting cabinet — the Taliban said it would name permanent leadership soon — also includes members of the powerful Haqqani militant network, responsible for many deadly attacks and kidnappings over the past two decades. Several senior members of the new government had been detained at Guantánamo Bay and were released in a prisoner swap for Bowe Bergdahl in 2014.” 
  • Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme leader, has the final say on all political, religious and military decisions. He has officially led the Islamist group since 2016 but has not been seen in public for years.”
  • Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a close aide to Omar, was appointed acting prime minister. He was foreign minister and then deputy prime minister during the Taliban’s last reign, from 1996 to 2001.”
  • Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of a brutal Taliban offshoot known as the Haqqani network, is the new acting interior minister. The group has been behind some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan over the past two decades.”

Hot on the left

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says it’s time Senate Democrats abolish the filibuster. In an op-ed for the Las Vegas Sun, Reid writes that “The sanctity of the Senate is not the filibuster. The sanctity of the Senate — in government as a whole — is the power it holds to better the lives of and protect the rights of the American people. We need to get the Senate working again.”

Hot on the right

Former president Donald Trump scheduled rallies in Iowa and Georgia in the coming weeks. “Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, announced Tuesday evening that the former president will appear in Perry, Ga., on Sept. 25 and then in Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 9,” the Hill reports

“Trump is set to back Wyoming attorney Harriet Hageman as she prepares a primary challenge against GOP Rep. Liz Cheney,” Politico’s Marc Caputo and Alex Isenstadt report. “Trump’s looming involvement in the primary will test his political power in the GOP like never before.”

Emergency rental assistance

Last month the Supreme Court ended a national moratorium on evictions, removing a safeguard for the millions of Americans behind on their rent. The anticipated wave of evictions has brought increased urgency to a federal emergency rental assistance program. But the program’s sluggish start has left billions in rental aid untouched, and a highly decentralized approach means the ease with which a person can access relief can come down to where they live, Ashlyn Still and Alyssa Fowers report.

© The Washington Post

Today in Washington

Biden is delivering remarks in honor of labor unions alongside Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. At 2:45 p.m., Biden will receive a briefing from members of the White House coronavirus response team. 

Vice President Harris will participate in an event for California Gov. Gavin Newsom in San Leandro, Calif. 

In closing

Workers this morning removed an imposing statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond. The bronze icon was taken down after 131 years of towering over the city’s rooftops, Gregory Schneider and Laura Vozzella report

© Steve Helber/AP Crews work to remove one of the country’s largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond. (Steve Helber/AP)

Continue Reading