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Wake Up To Politics - June 8, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Approaching normal
Wake Up To Politics - June 8, 2021

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 518 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,246 days away.

Yesterday, I did something normal. For the first time in 15 months, I attended an in-person class. Sure, we were all wearing masks and our desks were distanced and the professor taught from behind a protective shield and a handful of students were beamed in via Zoom.

But it was still a class, with other students, in a classroom — my first as a college student, despite the fact that I’m entering my sophomore year. (I’m participating in an in-person summer program at Georgetown, which has been remote all year. That also means this newsletter is coming to you from a college dorm room for the first time.)

And so even with the reminders of Covid stubbornly present, I’m counting it as “normal,” as a personal milestone in my fully-vaccinated path out of pandemic life.

Across town, normalcy was returning to the White House as well. The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room was finally at full capacity, also for the first time since March 2020, after more than a year of only a handful of reporters sitting in on each White House press briefing.

“Forty-nine journalists sat elbow-to-elbow in blue seats, while others stood on the edges. The loudspeaker before the briefing told reporters not to block the aisle, but no one budged,” the Associated Press reported.

“The briefing marked something of a surreal return to business as usual for Joe Biden’s presidency. The president had vowed to overcome the pandemic, and one of the consequences of any success on that front inevitably was going be more questions from more reporters. Monday was proof of that as the hourlong briefing ran to roughly 58 sets of questions.”

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan takes questions from a full room of reporters on Monday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

All over the country, similar milestones are taking place as Americans slowly return to normal life. A Gallup poll released last week found that 66% of U.S. adults now say that their lives are “somewhat” or “completely” back to normal. Throughout the pandemic, Gallup has also asked Americans whether they think the best advice for healthy people is to stay home as much as possible or to lead their normal lives. In the most recent survey, those who encouraged normal lives outpaced those who encouraged staying home (56% vs. 44%) for the first time.

As with many aspects of the pandemic, the question has taken on a political nature: 87% of Republicans said healthy people should live their normal lives, compared to 29% of Democrats.

However, both parties largely united on two key questions: optimism about the state of the pandemic is at an all-time high (84% said things are getting better) and fears of contracting coronavirus are at their lowest points since the pandemic began (20% said they were worried about getting the disease).

There’s good reason for this newfound national optimism. On Monday, the United States reported 13,707 new coronavirus cases and 305 new coronavirus deaths — decreases of 95% and 93%, respectively, since the pandemic’s January peak. The number of Americans hospitalized with the virus dropped below 20,000 for the first time in 14 months.

These sharp decreases in cases and deaths are largely due to the ongoing vaccination campaign, which is currently administering about 1 million doses per day and has succeeded in fully vaccinating 53% of American adults and partially vaccinating 63.7%.

A majority of Americans are encouraging others to live their normal lives for the first time since the pandemic began. (Gallup)

The country is not completely out of the woods yet, of course. A decline in the vaccination rate from the April peak could result in the U.S. falling short of President Biden’s goal of having at least 70% of adults partially vaccinated by July 4. (Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed confidence on Monday that the benchmark would still be hit.)

Vaccinations are slowly particularly in the South; according to The New York Times, it would take about a year for Alabama and Mississippi to get one dose to 70% of the population at their current pace.

But from classrooms to the press briefing room and beyond, normalcy beckons. “Governors and U.S. public health authorities in even some of the most cautious jurisdictions say the risks of overrun hospitals and uncontrolled outbreaks are so low that restrictions can come to an end after 14 months,” The Washington Post reported.

“It felt like the end of Prohibition,” an employee at one Boston nightclub told The Post, exulting in his establishment’s Memorial Day reopening.

The Rundown

More top stories to know.

JANUARY 6 INVESTIGATIONS: “U.S. Capitol Police leaders learned that Trump supporters were discussing ways to infiltrate tunnels around the complex and target Democratic members of Congress on Jan. 6 but failed to act on the threats, according to a new Senate report summing up what it says were profound intelligence and security failures that contributed to one of the worst incidents of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.”

“The report also says that officers complained about a lack of leadership within the department as they tried to repel the attack — and that top leaders were virtually silent as they begged for help.” NBC News

INSIDE DOJ: “The Biden administration is pressing on with a controversial Justice Department defense of President Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a writer who accused him of raping her at a New York City department store in the 1990s.” Politico

LAB LEAK: “A report on the origins of Covid-19 by a U.S. government national laboratory concluded [in May 2020] that the hypothesis claiming the virus leaked from a Chinese lab in Wuhan is plausible and deserves further investigation, according to people familiar with the classified document.” Wall Street Journal

Author E. Jean Carroll is suing former President Donald Trump for alleged rape. The Biden administration is taking up Trump’s defense. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Times)

Policy Roundup: Education

A rotating group of student journalists offer briefings on a different policy area each day. On Tuesdays, Kirsten Shaw Mettler breaks down the week’s top education news:

Vaccination requirements at American colleges are creating challenges for international students. Over 400 American colleges and universities now have COVID-19 vaccination requirements, but these policies were largely designed with domestic students in mind. Although the World Health Organization has approved 8 different COVID-19 vaccinations, many colleges are specifically requiring students to get the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccination: a challenge for international students who live in countries relying predominantly on different approved vaccines.

Freedom of speech debates on college campuses are heating up. A law student made recent headlines when Stanford placed a hold on his diploma for sending a satirical email about the conservative Federalist Society. The university backtracked after facing criticism for its reaction. This is only the latest in a series of cases where colleges are debating the limits in freedom of speech.

A bipartisan bill would support community college work-based programs. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Assisting Community Colleges in Educating Skilled Students (ACCESS) to Careers Act. The bill would create federal grants for states and community colleges to carry out career-based training. Many states have worked to expand such programs in the wake of COVID-19.

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), left, and Todd Young (R-IN) are working together on a community college bill. (Tom Williams/Getty Images) 

More education policy headlines, via Kirsten:

  • The U.S. Department of Education has announced that they will be moving forward with terminating the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), a controversial higher education accreditor.
  • On Monday, the Biden administration began its weeklong hearing to rewrite Title IX, the federal law governing sex discrimination in schools.
  • Illinois may be the first state to require Asian American history education in public schools.

Ask Gabe

Your questions answered.

Q: Why does Congress use voice votes where everyone just yells out “Yay” or “Nay” as groups, and votes where legislators have to walk to the front? It seems like we have the technology to track votes digitally and it would be more accurate than voice votes and faster than walking up. Also, why is it allowed for us to not know the number of votes in a voice vote and who voted how? — Beth from Arizona

A: The House actually does vote electronically, and has since 1973. Members have specialized voting cards that they insert into electronic voting boxes and then click buttons for “yea,” “nay,” or “present.” The Senate, however, has not followed the other chamber’s lead and still uses a roll call for each recorded vote. The reason for this is mainly just tradition — as you may have noticed from the debate over the filibuster, the Senate is not a body that changes very quickly, so roll calls are likely there to stay.

There are senators who have mentioned moving to an electronic voting system to save time: then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) suggested he’d be open to it in 2013, but no changes were made. It’s worth noting that roll calls in the 100-member Senate don’t take nearly as long as they did in the 435-member House, which is why the lower chamber moved to their electronic system several decades ago.

As for voice votes — when members just call out “yea” or “nay” together, without their choices being recorded — they are really just used for votes that are already unanimous or lopsided. Many of the votes that Congress takes are for uncontroversial bills or resolutions (oftentimes with more ceremonial functions, like renaming a post office), so it is just easier to use voice votes on those measures. As outlined in Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, if one-fifth of the members present request that the “yeas” and “nays” be recorded, a full roll call is held, which ensures that votes are recorded for more consequential pieces of legislation.

A House electronic voting box. (Clerk of the House)

Q: Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said he would have voted for the January 6 commission, but he had a family commitment. My question is, could he have voted by proxy? — Julia from Pennsylvania

A: This is another area where House members can do something senators can’t. Before the pandemic, neither chamber allowed absent members to vote — but the House introduced proxy voting in May 2020 and has had it ever since. Proxy voting was a somewhat controversial move: it was approved by a straight party-line vote, although some Republicans who opposed it have since voted by proxy themselves.

The bill that passed the House last year leaves it to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to designate 45-day periods where proxy voting is permissible. She has extended the period every 45 days since the first one; the current period runs until July 3. Again, the Senate has opted against departing from tradition: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) denounced proxy voting last year, describing it as a potentially unconstitutional dereliction of duty.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) was one of 11 senators to miss the vote on the January 6 commission. (Sarah Silbiger/AFP via Getty Images)

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What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern.)
Executive Branch

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10:15 a.m. He has no other events scheduled.

Vice President Kamala Harris is in Mexico City, Mexico. At 11:05 a.m., she will join Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for a signing ceremony of a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Mexico to “establish a strategic partnership to cooperate on development programs in the Northern Triangle.” At 11:20 a.m., Harris will meet with López Obrador.

At 2:40 p.m., Harris will meet with Mexican women entreprenuers. At 4 p.m., she will meet with Mexican labor leaders. At 5:35 p.m., she will deliver remarks and take questions from reporters. At 6:30 p.m., Harris will participate in a virtual meet and greet event with the staff of the U.S. embassy in Mexico. She will then depart Mexico City at 7:45 p.m., touching down back in Washington, D.C., at 12:35 a.m.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1 p.m. She will be joined by Sameera Fazili, the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, and Peter Harrell, the Senior Director for International Economics and Competitiveness of the National Security Council.

U.S. public health officials will hold their weekly COVID-19 press briefing at 10:15 a.m.

Harris in Guatemala on Monday, during the first leg of her Latin American tour. (Erin Schaff/New York Times)

Legislative Branch

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. The chamber will vote at 11:30 a.m. on confirmation of Julien Xavier Neals to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey, followed by a cloture vote advancing the nomination of Regina Rodriguez to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Colorado. (Neals will be the first federal judge appointed by Biden to be confirmed.)

Following the cloture vote, the Senate will recess until 2:15 p.m. while each party holds their weekly caucus meeting. At 3 p.m., the chamber will vote on Rodriguez’s confirmation. The Senate will then move to consideration of S.1260, the Endless Frontier Act, which will invest $120 billion into scientific research in an effort to compete with China.

The chamber will hold a series of votes related to S.1260, culminating in a vote on passage of the bipartisan bill. The Senate will then hold a procedural vote on H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act, a House-passed bill that would require companies to justify pay differences between men and women doing the same job. The bill is not expected to receive the 60 votes needed to advance.

The House will convene at 10 a.m. for a brief pro forma session.

Senate committees will hold hearings with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his agency’s 2022 budget request (Appropriations at 10 a.m. and Foreign Relations at 2:15 p.m.) and with Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blunt on his company’s recent hack (Homeland Security at 10 a.m.)

House committees will hold hearings with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on his agency’s 2022 budget request (Ways and Means at 10 a.m.) and Bill Nye on climate change (Homeland Security at 2 p.m.)
Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court is not scheduled to release any orders or opinions. The court has completed its oral arguments for the term.

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