by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Tuesday, September 20, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 49 days away. Election Day 2024 is 777 days away.
Sorry about WUTP’s absence from your inbox yesterday. I had a lot of schoolwork but I’m back on track now and excited to (belatedly) start the week with you all.
Before we jump in, it’s National Voter Registration Day today. If you’re an American citizen above the age of 18, I hope you’ll go to vote.org to check your voter registration or register if you haven’t already. Happy registering! 🇺🇸
Is the pandemic over?
President Biden doesn’t do many interviews.
His “60 Minutes” sit-down, which aired this Sunday, was his first TV interview since a one-on-one with NBC’s Lester Holt in February — a very unusual amount of time for a U.S. president to go without a televised interview.
Perhaps his team rarely allows Biden, a self-described “gaffe machine,” to submit to interviews because such sit-downs almost invariably require them to clean up after him for some accidental comment or another.
This latest interview was no exception. Asked directly by anchor Scott Pelley whether the pandemic had ended, Biden didn’t hesitate to answer: “The pandemic is over,” he said. “We still have a problem with Covid. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
Cue the clean-up on aisle Covid. Per Politico, the president’s comments surprised his own senior health officials, “many of whom only learned about Biden’s remarks from tweets and news headlines.” The White House had reportedly not been planning for the president to make news on Covid during the interview.
Officials quickly kicked into gear to clarify Biden’s comments. A spokeswoman for HHS rushed to tweet that the Covid public health emergency declaration remains in effect.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, lightly pushed back, telling the Washington Post that “we still have a lot of work to do get [the virus] down to a low enough level that we would feel comfortable with it.” (Fauci is retiring in December, itself a sign of a shift in the pandemic’s severity.)
Biden’s declaration may have been an accident — but was it necessarily wrong? What does the data tell us about whether the pandemic has ended?
In fact, new cases have been on a steady decline for months: after recording about 130,000 a day in July, the daily average is around 60,000 a day now. Covid deaths have also plateaued at around 400 daily.
Unfortunately, though, there’s no agreed-upon line where a virus magically goes from being pandemic to endemic, that phase we’ve been hearing about for more than a year but never seem to officially reach.
Where we are might be good enough for some experts and not for others. “I’m not comfortable with 400 deaths per day,” Dr. Fauci said, for example. “It’s completely off base,” Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute told the Wall Street Journal of Biden’s declaration.
But other experts said that the transition from pandemic to endemic is more psychological than statistical.
“It’s over when people decide that it’s over,” John Barry, author of a famed book on the 1918 flu outbreak, told STAT News. “And most people seem to have decided it’s over.”
We have data here as well: Only 27% of Americans said they were “very” concerned about Covid last month, according to a Morning Consult poll. Even fewer, 14%, called Covid a “severe health risk” to their community.
Politically, too, Covid has fallen off the radar screen. Just two years ago, the virus was a pivotal election issue; today, it’s barely spoken of on the campaign trail.
When CBS News asked Americans about 12 key issues, Covid was the one voters said would least influence their vote for Congress this year: 30% called it “very important” to their vote, far behind issues like inflation (76%) or abortion (59%). (Of course, that doesn’t mean the after-effects of the virus are invisible: inflation was exacerbated in large part by Covid.)
Biden’s comments could still cause trouble for him. The White House is currently in the process of seeking $22.5 billion to fund the fight against Covid — money that Republican lawmakers say is all the less likely to be appropriated now that the president has rhetorically ended the pandemic.
“If it’s over, then I wouldn't suspect they need any more money,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told CNN. “Joe Biden last night was the Republicans' best messenger,” a senior Senate GOP aide said to Insider.
The “60 Minutes” interview also led to renewed pressure from Republicans for Biden to lift his public health emergency declaration, and may have inadvertently given a boost to legal challenges against Biden’s student loan debt cancellation, which was predicated on the pandemic. (Not unlike former President Trump’s tweets being used against him in court.)
Finally, some experts have expressed fears that Biden’s rhetoric could hamper the U.S. vaccination campaign, just as federal agencies were rolling out an updated booster shot. Many Americans were already in no rush to get the shot; it’s unlikely that Biden’s newly relaxed attitude towards the virus will send them running to their local pharmacy.
What else you should know
➞ DeSantis: A Texas sheriff announced Monday that he’s opened a criminal investigation into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s move to transport nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
➞ Immigration: “The number of migrant arrivals reported along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022 surpassed 2 million in August, an all-time high driven in part by unprecedented levels of migration from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, according to government data published Monday.” CBS News
➞ Congress: With government funding set to expire in 10 days, it appears most of the Democratic attachments are set to be left out of the bill to avert a government shutdown. Republican senators are signaling support for additional Ukraine aid, but not for Covid or monkeypox funding; GOP votes have also yet to materialize for Sen. JOe Manchin’s permitting reform proposal.
Today at a glance
All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.
➞ President Biden will start his day with a speech (1:45 pm) on the DISCLOSE Act, a Democratic bill that would require super PACs and 501(c)(4) political nonprofits (also known as “dark money” groups) to disclose any of their donors who contribute more than $10,000 in an election cycle. (The groups currently do not have to reveal any of their donors).
The bill, which would also tighten restrictions against foreign nationals donating to political campaigns, is slated to receive a Senate vote later this week.
Later in the day, Biden will travel to New York City, participate in a Democratic National Committee fundraiser there (7:30 pm), and stay the night.
➞ Vice President Harris will travel to Orangeburg, South Carolina. She’ll meet with student leaders at Claflin University for a “roundtable discussion on a number of issues that matter to young Americans, including mental health, entrepreneurship, and access to capital” (12 pm).
Then, she’ll deliver remarks at the South Carolina State University fall convocation (1:55 pm) and return to Washington.
➞ Second Gentleman Emhoff will deliver remarks and present the Federal Employee of the Year award at a Kennedy Center ceremony (6:30 pm). The winner of this year’s award is Greg Robinson, who oversaw NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope program.
➞ Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will be joined by national security adviser Jake Sullivan at her daily press briefing (12 pm).
➞ The Senate will convene (10 am) and hold votes on Florence Pan’s nomination to be a U.S. circuit judge for the D.C. circuit (11:30 am) and on advancing the Kigali Amendment (2:15 pm).
The D.C. circuit is known as the nation’s second-most powerful court because of its jurisdiction over much of the federal government and its status as a common Supreme Court stepping stone. (Almost half of the current justices are D.C. circuit alums, including Ketanji Brown Jackson, whose seat on the lower court is being filled by Pan.)
The Kigali Amendment is a modification to the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 treaty that regulates the production and consumption of certain chemicals that harm the environment. The amendment would add hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to the list of restricted chemicals; HFCs are greenhouse gases, used in many air conditioners and refrigerators, that contribute to climate change even more than carbon dioxide.
For today’s vote, the Kigali Amendment will need 60 “yea” votes; because it is a treaty, it will eventually need 67 votes for final approval.
➞ The House will convene (10 am) and vote on 12 pieces of legislation:
- H.R. 8453, Upholding the Dayton Peace Agreement Through Sanctions Act
- H.R. 6846, CORRUPT Act
- H.R. 7240, READ Act Reauthorization Act
- H.R. 8503, Securing Global Telecommunications Act
- H.R. 8520, Countering Untrusted Telecommunications Abroad Act
- H.R. 7338, Russia Cryptocurrency Transparency Act
- H.R. 6265, CAPTAGON Act
- H.Res. 558, Urging the European Union to designate Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization
- H.R. 1433, Helen Keller National Center Reauthorization Act of 2022
- H.R. 4009, Enslaved Voyages Memorial Act
- S. 2490, Blackwell School National Historic Site Act
- H.R. 4358, Little Manatee Wild and Scenic River Act
➞ Committee hearing topics will include “tightening the screws on Russia” (9 am), U.S. nuclear strategy and policy (9:30 am), the national security implications of ”alternative payment systems” like PayPal and Apple Pay (10 am), meeting the “academic, social, and emotional needs” of students (10:15 am), uncounted deaths in American prisons (2:30 pm), and federal enforcement of antitrust laws (3 pm).
➞ The Supreme Court is out until September 28.
➞ Judge Raymond Dearie will have his first conference (2 pm) with lawyers for former President Trump and the Justice Department since being appointed special master, an independent arbiter, in their dispute over government documents Trump kept after leaving office.
➞ The Federal Open Markets Committee, a panel of key Federal Reserve officials, will kick off their two-day September meeting. Fed chair Jerome Powell is expected to announce a three-quarter point interest rate hike, the third this year, at the close of the meeting tomorrow.
➞ The United Nations General Assembly will convene for its 77th annual meeting. Secretary-general António Guterres will deliver opening remarks (9 am).
Before I go...
Here’s some good news: “The World Really Is Getting Better.”
Or so says a recent headline from the Atlantic, found atop an article rounding up some of the conclusions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s sixth annual “Goalkeepers Report.”
Here are some key statistics highlighted in the article, as a reminder of the things that really are going well worldwide. Since 1990...
- “The share of global smokers has declined by about 20 percent”
- “Children are roughly 30 percent less likely to be malnourished or stunted”
- “Rates of tuberculosis have similarly declined by about one-third”
- “Maternal deaths per live births have declined by 40 percent”
- “The prevalence of neglected tropical diseases such as dengue and leprosy has declined by roughly 70 percent”
- “The share of the global population with access to toilets and safe plumbing has increased by 100 percent.”
Decades ago, Atlantic writer Derek Thompson also adds, public health experts estimated that about 5 million people would die of AIDS in 2020. Instead — largely because of a massive effort launched by charities, the U.S., and other governments — 500,000 did.
“The quality of data collection varies by category and country,” Thompson writes. “But overall, it is hard to argue that human progress is some sort of sales pitch from the pathologically optimistic. Progress is simply a fact.”
Here’s the Atlantic piece if you’re looking for a morning pick-me-up.
In Friday’s newsletter, I misstated the number of federal judges confirmed by the Senate last week. It was three; a fourth was voted down.
In Thursday’s newsletter, I misstated the nature of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a case involving Yeshiva University and an LGBT group on campus. The justices ordered the university to exhaust its legal avenues in state court before coming before the Supreme Court.
My sincere apologies for these errors and thanks to the readers who pointed them out.
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.