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Wake Up To Politics - August 23, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Biden meets the August slump
Wake Up To Politics - August 23, 2021

Good morning! It’s Monday, August 23, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 443 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,171 days away.

Welcome back to Wake Up To Politics. Thanks for your understanding while the newsletter stepped away last week. I know there is a lot of news to catch up on, and this morning’s top story will endeavor to both review some of what I missed and look ahead to what’s coming down the pike.

At long last, this newsletter is coming to you from my dorm at Georgetown University. I’m excited to finally get a start to my in-person college experience — plus, stay tuned for some more on-the-ground reporting from Washington. And I hope all of the students, teachers, and parents reading this have a good start to your new school years as well!

And now, let’s get to the news:

Biden meets the August slump

It has been something of a rule in recent presidencies: If a president seems to be riding high throughout the winter and spring, it will be August — just when they are about to take off for vacation — when things begin to go downhill for the commander-in-chief.

In August 2005, President George W. Bush contended with the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina from his ranch in Texas. In August 2013, President Barack Obama was golfing on Martha’s Vineyard as he wrestled with how to combat the rise of ISIS. In August 2017, President Donald Trump was ensconced in his New York City skyrise as he struggled to respond to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

And now, throughout August 2021, President Joe Biden has had vacations to Camp David and his home in Delaware interrupted by the swift fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban following his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the country.

Biden receives a briefing on Afghanistan from the presidential retreat at Camp David. (White House photo)

The chaos in Kabul has been Biden’s own August crisis. As the Taliban forms a government and ISIS gains a foothold, mayhem at the Kabul airport has prevented the orderly evacuation of Americans and American allies seeking to escape. For only the third time in U.S. history, the Pentagon has ordered commercial airlines to assist in the efforts.

Biden announced on Sunday that U.S. forces had evacuated 11,000 people over the weekend, but acknowledged that there is “a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong.” He also indicated that the U.S. could stay in Afghanistan past his original August 31 withdrawal deadline to continue working on evacuations.

The unfolding situation already seems to be taking its political toll. A pair of polls released on Sunday showed a clear drop in Biden’s approval ratings, which had once been historically stable and comfortably above 50%.

A survey from NBC News showed Biden’s approval rating dipping to 49%, from 53% in April, while his disapproval rating jumped to 48%, from 39% in April. Meanwhile, a poll from CBS News showed Biden’s approval and disapproval ratings landed at 50%, from 58% and 42%, respectively, in July.

Both polls show steep decreases in approval of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan, as well as of his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Between the resurgence in Covid cases and doomed Afghanistan pullout, the political environment has tipped in the GOP direction while Democrats look on in alarm with the 2022 midterms looming.

Afghans attempting to escape wave their documents at U.S. Marines patrolling outside the Kabul airport. (Jim Huylebroek/New York Times)

And as attention turns to the world stage, it is also a precarious time for Biden’s domestic agenda. The upcoming week will be a critical one for the Democrats’ complex “two-track” plan to pass a bipartisan infrastructure package and $3.5 trillion spending package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is hoping to vote soon on the Senate-approved budget resolution that will open the door to the larger package, but a group of moderate Democrats are threatening to sink it unless the bipartisan bill receives a vote first.

At the same time, House Democrats are set to renew their push to protect voting rights, a battle doomed only to remind their base of the limits of the party’s control in Washington.  

Still trying to go on vacation, Mr. President?

For your radar

Two more items for your radar this Monday morning:

1. This is Andrew Cuomo’s last day in office. The Democratic governor of New York, who fell from dominance after facing almost a dozen allegations of sexual harassment, is scheduled to leave office at 11:59 p.m. tonight. Once his resignation becomes effective, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will become New York’s first female governor.

2. The FDA is expected to grant full approval to the Pfizer vaccine today. According to the New York Times and a host of other news outlets, full approval for the Pfizer Covid vaccine — which currently has only emergency authorization — could come today. The long-awaited step could lead to more vaccine mandates by private companies and could persuade some vaccine holdouts to take the shot.

Kathy Hochul will become governor of New York when the clock strikes midnight. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Policy Roundup: Economics

On Mondays, Wake Up To Politics contributor Davis Giangiulio offers a briefing on the week’s top economics news:

Retail sales last month fell 1.1 percent, a greater decline than predicted. Dow Jones forecasted a 0.3 percent fall, but that turned out to be a miss. July’s greater than expected decrease comes off of June’s greater than expected rise when retail sales jumped by 0.6 percent. Many cited the possibility that the Delta variant could be a key factor in this downturn. Plus, Bloomberg writes it could be “indicating consumers may be growing more price conscious as inflation picks up.”

The decline in retail sales last month coincided with a sharp fall in consumer confidence. The University of Michigan’s index of consumer sentiment measured just 70.2 in early August, the lowest since 2011, and lower than the April 2020 trough of 71.2. The Delta variant threatening the recovery, combined with supply-chain issues still ongoing due to the virus, labor shortage worries, and rising prices, has pushed sentiment on a sharp decline.

However, this index’s reading is quite bearish. Morning Consult’s index of consumer sentiment has fallen from its spring peak but is still up significantly from the April 2020 bottom. And there has been little evidence in jobs reports or unemployment claims that the economy is turning south just yet.

Retail sales and consumer confidence fell in July, as inflation and Delta variant concerns remained for shoppers. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

President Joe Biden is asking states with high unemployment rates to use federal funds to extend expanded unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh wrote in a letter to the Senate that the administration’s position was that the expanded benefits would not be extended on a federal level. However, they also said, “there are some states where it may make sense for unemployed workers to continue receiving additional assistance for a longer period of time.”

While UI activists who want to see expanded UI become permanent see this as a promising first step, those who are opposed to it are questioning when this form of UI will ever end. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that the plan would add to the “government-made disincentives to work.”

With families having received the second month of the new child tax credit, the impact of the first round of checks is beginning to be discovered. The U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey found that the share of adults in households with children experiencing food insufficiency fell by 2.6 percent, a 23 percent decline, and the same households reported a 2.5 percent decline in difficulty paying expenses.

27 percent of those who received the benefit spent it, 32 percent mostly saved it, while 40 percent used it to pay down debts. While the number of children going hungry is estimated to be the lowest since the pandemic began, more than 20 percent of Black households with children report food insufficiency, more than three times that of white households.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern)
Executive Branch President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m. Then, at 10 a.m., he will meet with his national security team to receive an update on Afghanistan. At 3:30 p.m., he will host the Seattle Storm at the White House to honor the team’s 2020 WNBA Championship.

Vice President Kamala Harris is in Singapore as part of her second foreign trip since taking office. Earlier this morning, she held a press conference with Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore; received a briefing from Singaporean defense officials on the U.S.-Singapore defense relationship; toured the USS Tulsa; and delivered remarks to troops aboard the ship.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will land today at Yokota Air Force Base in Tokyo, Japan. Emhoff is in Tokyo leading the U.S. delegation to the Paralympic Games.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 2 p.m.
Legislative Branch
The Senate is on recess until September 13.

The House will convene at 5 p.m. after three weeks of recess. The chamber is expected to vote on a rule setting up consideration of S.Con.Res. 14, the budget resolution that paves the way for the $3.5 trillion Democratic spending package; H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act; and H.R. 3684, the bipartisan infrastructure package.

The chamber may also hold “suspension votes” to pass 12 pieces of legislation:

  1. S. 848, the Consider Teachers Act of 2021
  2. S. 1828, the HAVANA Act of 2021
  3. H.R. 1029, the Free Veterans from Fees Act
  4. H.R. 1154, the Great Dismal Swamp National Heritage Area Act
  5. S. 325, to amend the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act to extend the deadline for a report by the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children
  6. S. 272, the Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act of 2021
  7. H.R. 3533, to establish occupational series for Federal positions in software development, software engineering, data science, and data management
  8. H.R. 3599, the Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act of 2021
  9. H.R. 1204, the District of Columbia Chief Financial Officer Salary Home Rule Act
  10. H.R. 978, the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act of 2021
  11. H.R. 2617, the Performance Enhancement Reform Act
  12. S. 2382, to authorize the National Cyber Director to accept details from other elements of the Federal Government on nonreimbursable basisJudicial Branch
    The Supreme Court is on recess until October 4.

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