by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Thursday, December 9, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 334 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,062 days away.
Two years of Covid
Here’s a milestone you might not have heard much about on Wednesday: It was the two-year anniversary of the onset of the first cases in Wuhan, China, of the virus that would later be labeled Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization.
That means, as of this week, the world has been wrestling with Covid-19 for two whole years. Let’s review the damage the virus has wrought in that time:
- More than 267 million people have been infected with the virus across the globe, including 49 million in the United States, per Johns Hopkins University
- More than 5 million people have died from the virus across the globe, including 793,000 in the United States
And the Covid situation appears to be worsening yet again in the U.S.
- About 120,000 new cases are being reported each day, per the New York Times, a 27% increase from two weeks ago
- About 60,000 people are being hospitalized each day, a 20% increase from two weeks ago.
- About 1,200 people are dying from Covid each day, a 12% increase from two weeks ago. (According to the Washington Post, about 1 in 420 Americans has now died from Covid-19.)
Here’s what else you should know about Covid right now:
- Experts are worried about the next few weeks. Per Axios, public health officials are warning that the U.S. “may be on the verge of a dangerous double whammy”: a bad flu season, combined with continued spread of Covid.
- Really, it’s a triple whammy, considering both the Delta and Omicron variants of Covid are now spreading. Former Biden Covid adviser Andy Slavitt warned on Twitter to “expect a significant wave of Covid this weekend: likely a Delta + Omicron wave.”
- Omicron is spreading in the U.S. The new variant has now been detected in 20 states, per the Times. Although it remains early, most reports are suggesting that Omicron is more contagious than Delta and other previous variants — but it causes less severe cases of disease.
- There are also early signs that vaccines, with booster shots included, will remain an effective defense against the variant: Pfizer released a preliminary study on Wednesday that showed a three-dose regimen of its vaccine produces a similar immune response against Omicron as the two-dose regimen provided against earlier strains.
- The pandemic is especially bad in these six states. Over the past two weeks, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois have accounted for more than 50% of the new Covid hospitalizations across the U.S., NBC News has found.
- On the bright side, vaccinations are increasing. According to the CDC, about 2 million vaccine doses are being administered in the U.S. each day, a noticeable uptick from a few weeks ago partially driven by a surge in booster shots. Just over 200 million Americans — 60.4% of the country — are now fully vaccinated.
What else you should know
→ It’s Democracy Day at the White House. President Joe Biden is convening his “Summit for Democracy” today, a virtual meeting with leaders from 110 other democratic countries. But the invite list has caused some controversy: some of the countries left out, like Russia and China, have been none too pleased, while some countries with murky democratic credentials, like Pakistan and the Philippines, were invited to participate.
→ A congressional rebuke for Biden. The Senate passed a resolution on Wednesday that would repeal President Biden’s vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees. The vote was 52-48, with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Jon Tester (WV) joining every Republican in the chamber.
→ Meadows sues Pelosi. Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows filed a lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the members of the House January 6 committee on Wednesday. Meadows is seeking to nullify the committee’s subpoenas seeking his testimony and phone records.
→ Biden orders net-zero emissions. The president signed an executive order on Wednesday directing the federal government to be carbon neutral by 2050. The order sets a series of goals for the government to meet this target: only purchasing electricity from sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide by 2030, a 50% reduction in emissions from building operations by 2032, all new federal vehicle purchases to be zero-emission by 2035.
Policy Roundup: Legal
Every Thursday, Wake Up To Politics contributor Anna Salvatore offers a briefing on the week’s top legal headlines.
The Justice Department has closed a recent investigation into the lynching of Emmett Till. In 1955, the Black teenager was kidnapped, whipped, and murdered after allegedly whistling at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant in rural Mississippi. He was kidnapped, whipped, and shot, and the photographs of his mutilated corpse became internationally famous.
The federal government reopened Till’s case three years ago after a new book, The Blood of Emmett Till, included interviews with Bryant that suggested Till might not have made sexual advances — a suggestion that would contradict her 1955 testimony, where she claimed that he had grabbed her by the waist. But on Monday, Justice Department officials said that when the FBI interviewed Bryant, they did not find sufficient evidence that she admitted to lying in court. “Even though we do not feel we got justice, we must move forward,” Ollie Gordon, Till’s cousin, said at a press conference after the announcement.
The Justice Department sued Texas Republicans on Monday to challenge their congressional and state redistricting plans. In a news conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland argued that Texas’s new maps violate the Voting Rights Act. They “deny or abridge the right of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language minority group,” he said. Though Texas gained two congressional seats after the 2020 census, with its population growth largely driven by Black and Hispanic voters, the two new districts will have a majority of white voters.
NBC News reports that this is the second lawsuit the Justice Department has filed against Texas lately, as officials challenged the state’s new voting law in November for making it harder to assist voters with disabilities. In his Monday news conference, Attorney General Garland reiterated his calls for Congress to restore the Justice Department’s “preclearance authority,” the power to review changes to election protocol in states with histories of racial discrimination. “Were that preclearance tool still in place,” he said, “we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint.”
President Biden’s Supreme Court commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to release its final report on court reforms. The 288-page document observes that although there is “considerable, bipartisan support” for instituting 18-year term limits for the justices, there is also “profound disagreement” over whether to expand the Supreme Court. President Biden established the commission in April to analyze the basic arguments for and against reform. “The resulting document,” writes SCOTUSblog, “is more of an academic study than anything resembling an action plan.”
More legal headlines, via Anna:
— In oral arguments Wedmesday in Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court hinted that states cannot refuse to give tuition aid for religious charter schools.
— A former D.C. National Guard official accused two Army generals of lying in their testimony about the January 6th insurrection, arguing that they “repeatedly misrepresented, understated, or misled” Congress about the Guard’s ability to defend the Capitol.
— The American Bar Association released a new report entitled, “How Unappealing: An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap Among Appellate Attorneys.”
All times Eastern.
→ President Joe Biden will deliver opening remarks at 8 a.m. at the Summit for Democracy, a virtual meeting he is convening with government, civil society, and private sector leaders from 110 countries.
At 10 a.m., Biden will deliver remarks at a tribute ceremony at the Capitol for the late Sen. Bob Dole, who died on Sunday and will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. The president will then hold two phone calls to discuss Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine: one with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine at 12:30 p.m., and another with the leaders of the Bucharest Nine (B9) — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia — at 1:45 p.m.
Finally, at 3:30 p.m., Biden will meet with members of the White House COVID-19 response team to discuss the Omicron variant.
→ Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will join Biden at the Capitol ceremony for Dole at 10 a.m. Later, Harris will deliver remarks at the Summit for Democracy at 1:25 p.m. and join Biden for his 2:30 p.m. briefing on the Omicron variant.
→ First Lady Jill Biden will also attend the Dole ceremony. In addition, at 5:15 p.m., she and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro will join families of the USS Delaware crew at a holiday party at the U.S. Submarine Veterans Club in Groton, Connecticut.
→ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1:30 p.m.
→ The Senate will convene at 11:30 a.m. The chamber will hold a cloture vote at about 12:30 p.m. to advance S. 610, which would delay scheduled cuts to Medicare and other programs and set up a fast-tracked vote on raising the debt ceiling. The bill passed the House in a 222-212 vote on Tuesday.
In order to speed final passage of the bill and remain in compliance with the chamber’s time rules, the Senate will agree by unanimous consent to act as though the cloture vote took place at 1 a.m.
— The House will convene at 12 p.m. The chamber is scheduled to hold an hour of debate on H.R. 5314, the Protecting Our Democracy Act, a package of post-Trump reforms to the presidency. Among other provisions, the measure would:
- prohibit presidents from pardoning themselves
- suspend the statute of limitations for any federal offense committed by a president or vice president while in office
- prohibit presidents from accepting foreign or domestic emoluments
- increase enforcement of congressional subpoenas
- impose limits on presidential emergency declarations
- require the Justice Department to maintain a log of communications it has with the White House regarding certain investigations
- require cause for removal of inspectors general
- increase whistleblower protections
- establish penalties for political appointees who take part in prohibited political activities
- require federal campaigns to report foreign contacts
The chamber will vote on 34 amendments to the package, followed by a final vote on the legislation.
→ The Supreme Court will not meet today.