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Wake Up To Politics - April 27, 2022

Wake Up To Politics: Do high-profile Covid cases still matter?
Wake Up To Politics - April 27, 2022

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 195 days away. Election Day 2024 is 923 days away.

Do high-profile Covid cases still matter?

Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday, the latest Biden administration official to contract the virus. Although Harris had not had contact with President Biden in eight days, her positive test raises the possibility that he could be the next high-profile D.C. figure to have a bout with the virus.

And yet, after taking stringent steps to shield Biden from Covid on the campaign trail and in his early days as president, the White House seems to have shifted its mindset.

“It is possible he could test positive for Covid,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged on Tuesday, not seeming especially concerned. “Just like any American, even though he’s double boosted, that is possible.”

Psaki also said that “just like many Americans, he makes risk assessments” on what events are worth attending despite the possibility of catching the virus.

In the coming days, those risk assessments will take him to three crowded, indoor events: today’s funeral for former Secretary Madeleine Albright, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, and former Vice President Walter Mondale’s memorial service in Minneapolis on Sunday.

Vice President Kamala Harris receiving her first Covid booster shot in October 2021. (Lawrence Jackson / White House)

The new, laissez-faire virus protocols for Biden coincide with a broader Covid messaging shift by the administration.

“We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s medical adviser, told PBS News on Tuesday. That quote hasn’t received too much attention — but it marks a notable pivot for the White House, a signal to the country that Covid is no longer the emergency it once was.

There are likely political calculations behind the shift — many Americans have already reached that conclusion, after all, and Biden wants to project normalcy ahead of the midterm elections — but there’s a medical basis as well.

After a lot of warnings about a new Covid wave in the U.S. driven by the BA.2 subvariant, it has largely yet to materialize. Yes, cases have increased 61% over the past two weeks — but still only about 50,000 Americans are testing positive per day, compared to 800,000 at the peak of the Omicron surge.

And, more importantly: about a month after cases have begun rising, hospitalizations have remained stable. There has only been a 6% increase in Covid hospitalizations over the past two weeks; even better, there’s been a 32% decrease in Covid deaths.

All of this raises a question I’ve been wrestling with lately: how much attention should we be paying now to high-profile Covid cases?

Vice President Harris, for example, is (1) experiencing no symptoms, (2) quadruple-vaccinated, and (3) taking the antiviral Paxlovid, which has been shown to be highly effective in cutting the risk of severe illness.

Does that mean it should no longer be considered “breaking news” when she tests positive, especially now that we’ve exited the “pandemic phase,” according to Fauci? Should I and others in the media be rethinking our coverage?

The “breaking news” alerts on my phone after Harris tested positive for Covid on Tuesday. (Screenshot)

Yes, some experts told me.

“While ‘it’s like the flu’ was a harmful canard earlier in the pandemic, today’s it’s about right for a vaccinated/boosted person; and might well be lower if the patient also gets on Paxlovid quickly,” Dr. Bob Wachter, the chair of the Department of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco, told me.

“And the flu in a relatively young celebrity or politician wouldn’t make the news,” Wachter continued. “So yes, the coverage should be recalibrated a bit.”

With the caveat that “individual situation is different,” Dr. Jesse Goodman, an infectious disease professor at Georgetown University and former FDA chief scientist, agreed that “at this point in time, intensive reporting on every notable figure’s positive test probably is not helpful or needed if they are asymptomatic, vaccinated, boosted, and immunologically normal.”

But Harris’ case, of course, takes on a different meaning when considering her potential contact with Biden.

“The twist here is that she (and others) have contact with the elderly president, who does have a non-zero chance of a bad outcome if he gets Covid,” Wacther told me. “So that makes the case a bit more newsworthy – at least as far as potential spread to POTUS or other more vulnerable people.”

President Biden with Dr. Anthony Fauci in July 2021. (Adam Schultz / White House)

But even with these possible bad outcomes, Biden — at age 79, firmly in the high-risk category for Covid — is increasingly taking his chances.

The last time Washington’s insider set gathered for a glitzy event, the Gridiron Dinner earlier this month, it sparked an outbreak in official D.C., with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and many others testing positive around the same time. (It should be noted that Pelosi, 82, experienced not a single symptom.)

Yet, on Saturday, Biden will be among the 2,600 attendees at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the premier D.C. insider event which is returning this weekend after taking two years off due to the pandemic.

At least one RSVP switched from “yes” to “no” after Harris tested positive, however.

Fauci, 81, decided on Tuesday not to attend the Correspondents’ Dinner — meaning Biden will be breaking with his own chief medical adviser by taking the risk of attending.

Or maybe the president is just a big fan of Trevor Noah’s.

Do you have any thoughts on whether coverage of high-profile Covid cases should be recalibrated? As the nation enters a new phase of the pandemic, is it still in the public interest when a politician or celebrity contracts the virus? Or is it akin to reporting a common cold as breaking news?

Let me know what you’re thinking by emailing me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

A few more questions on my mind

Since I led off this morning’s newsletter with a question, here are a few other questions that I’m wondering based off of today’s news:

1. Will Kevin McCarthy hang on? The New York Times dropped more tapes on Tuesday that could prove damaging to the House Republican leader. In the latest audio, McCarthy raised concerns after January 6 that some of his own colleagues — such as Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Mo Brooks (R-AL) — could be endangering the security of other lawmakers.

Gaetz responded by calling McCarthy “weak”; if the leader loses support from just a few more rank-and-file GOP members, his chances of becoming speaker next year could plummet. McCarthy will have a chance to address the issue with the full conference at a meeting of House Republicans today.

2. What about Madison Cawthorn? The freshman congressman from North Carolina has also faced a stream of troubling news stories lately, from admitting he exaggerated claims he’d been invited by colleagues to do cocaine to photos of him partying.

Tuesday brought reports that he’d (once again) been cited for bringing a gun to an airport security checkpoint and that he may have violated federal insider trading laws. None of that will help Cawthorn as he faces possible defeat in a May 17 Republican primary.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn faces a growing list of problems. (Gage Skidmore)

3. Can Democrats ink a deal with Manchin? For Democrats, the white whale of the Biden era has been a tax-and-spending package that could win the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). But as Manchin is meeting with Republicans to explore a possible bipartisan climate bill, fears are mounting within the White House that their last opportunity to draft a party-line package might have slipped by.

4. Will Biden cancel student loans? Earlier this month, Biden extended the pandemic-era pause on student loan repayment through August 31. But he has been hesitant to heed activists’ calls to cancel federal student loan debt outright — until the Washington Post reported on Tuesday that he told a group of Hispanic lawmakers that he’s considering doing just that.

Look ahead

How your leaders in Washington are spending their time today. (All times Eastern)

Biden: Receiving his daily intelligence briefing (9:30 am). Delivering remarks at former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s funeral (11 am). Delivering remarks at a ceremony recognizing the 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year (4 pm).

  • Other speakers at Albright’s funeral will include former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Senate: Voting to confirm Sherilyn Peace Garnett as a U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California, and possibly voting to advance Julia Ruth Gordon to be Commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration.

  • The chamber is also expected to vote on S.J.Res.41, a GOP resolution that would revive a Trump-era rule — which the Biden administration is attempting to repeal — requiring health insurance companies to send separate invoices for elective abortions if they cover them.

House: Voting on 15 pieces of legislation, including bills that would

Supreme Court: Oral arguments in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta (10 am), a case involving criminal jurisdiction in Native reservations.

  • Specifically, the case probes whether a U.S. state has jurisdiction to prosecute a crime that took place in a Native reservation if the crime was committed by a non-Native.
  • Native tribes generally have criminal jurisdiction in their reservations — but this case is the latest example of Oklahoma continuing to wrestle with how exactly that will work in the wake of the landmark 2020 case McGirt v. Oklahoma, in which the Supreme Court decided that some 40% of the state is a Native reservation.

What else: Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra (10:15 am) and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (2pm) will each testify before House committees. Secretary

  • Becerra will likely face questions on the Biden administration’s Covid response, while Mayorkas — the target of a GOP impeachment campaign — will be grilled about the stream of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Also, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify before a Senate subcommittee (2 pm) and White House press secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing (3 pm).

Links to watch for yourself: Albright funeralSenate sessionHouse sessionBecerra hearingMayorkas hearingBlinken hearing

Before I go...

Unfortunately, Kana Tanaka — the world’s oldest living person — passed away at age 119 last week.

That is obviously sad news to report, but I want to close this morning by introducing you to the new oldest person alive, who was identified by Guinness World Records on Monday.

The title now belongs to Lucile Randon, a French nun who is known as Sister André. She is 118 years and 75 days old.

What, you might ask, is Sister André’s secret to living a long life? Wine. She has a glass everyday, according to Guinness. Remarkably, she also holds the record for oldest Covid-19 survivor: she tested positive in early 2021, but beat back the virus at age 116.

Per CBS News, she worked past age 100 caring for other elderly people much younger than herself.

“People should help each other and love each other instead of hating. If we shared all that, things would be a lot better,” Sister André says.

While we’re on the topic: This New York Times Magazine article from last year was an interesting read on human longevity and efforts to extend the human lifespan. It also talks about Jeanne Calment, the oldest person ever, who lived to be 122 (or so she claimed).

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe