The Morning Dispatch: Omicron won’t mean return to March 2020, according to Biden
The White House tells Americans lockdowns won’t be a part of the strategy against COVID-19’s latest variant.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
In light of ongoing labor shortages, the Department of Homeland Security announced this week it will make an additional 20,000 H-2B visas available to U.S. employers looking to hire temporary workers for the winter season.
The Census Bureau released an estimate yesterday showing the U.S. population grew just 0.1 percent in 2021, the lowest rate in the country’s history. “Population growth has been slowing for years because of lower birth rates and decreasing net international migration, all while mortality rates are rising due to the aging of the nation’s population,” said Kristie Wilder, one of the Census’ demographers. “Now, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this combination has resulted in a historically slow pace of growth.”
The U.S. Secret Service announced Tuesday that nearly $100 billion in federal pandemic relief has been stolen or fraudulently obtained over the past two years, chiefly through the CARES Act’s expanded unemployment insurance and Small Business Administration loan and grant programs. Law enforcement officials claim to have clawed back about $2.3 billion thus far.
Harrison Floyd, senior campaign official with Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, set up a meeting where a Georgia election official says she was pressured to commit fraud. “The revelation directly ties a senior figure in the former president’s political operation to an extraordinary late-night Jan. 4 meeting in which a $16-an-hour election worker faced pressure to implicate herself in a baseless conspiracy theory, stoked by Trump himself, as he sought to overturn his Georgia election loss,” according to a special report from Reuters. The district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, is conducting a criminal investigation into allegations of misconduct related to the vote count last year.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Tuesday the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had overturned a Trump-era legal precedent that would have required thousands of federal inmates in home confinement to return to prison once the pandemic state of emergency comes to an end. The inmates were released early to home confinement last year due to the pandemic. Assistant Attorney General Christopher Schroeder wrote in a memo the administration doesn’t reverse precedent lightly, but it had concluded “that the better reading of section 12003(b)(2) [of the CARES Act] and [Bureau of Prison’s] preexisting authorities does not require that prisoners in extended home confinement be returned en masse to correctional facilities when the emergency period ends.”
Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, has reportedly ordered his troops to retreat to Tigray as Ethiopian government forces continue to make gains in the country’s civil war. Gebremichael wrote in a letter to the United Nations he hoped the retreat would provide an “opening for peace,” but a spokesperson for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday expressed doubts about a ceasefire at this time.
Biden Inches Toward New Pandemic Paradigm
In what was likely his final major speech of 2021, President Joe Biden gathered reporters in the White House’s State Dining Room Tuesday afternoon to outline his administration’s plan for confronting the Omicron wave that is already here.
Biden detailed a series of measures aimed at bolstering hospital systems likely to be strained in the coming weeks and announced the federal government will purchase 500 million at-home COVID-19 rapid tests to be distributed to Americans upon request starting in January. But in many ways, the most significant takeaway from the president’s address was his shift in tone.
“[A] question that folks are asking is: Are we going back to March 2020—not this last March 2021, but March 2020—when the pandemic first hit?” Biden said, likely referring to the increasingly fatalistic tone creeping into Omicron news coverage. “The answer is absolutely no. No.”
In response to the coronavirus’ latest mutation, several governments in Europe—including Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Portugal, and the Netherlands—have either announced plans to reimplement, or refused to rule out, a return to restrictions and lockdown measures. Biden made clear yesterday that 2020-era restrictions are not in the offing.
“We’re making sure that COVID-19 no longer closes businesses or schools,” he said, touting his administration’s recently reimplemented (for now) vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers. “We can keep our K-through-12 schools open, and that’s exactly what we should be doing.”
“If you are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well,” he added, “you should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as you planned it.”
Worth Your Time
In yesterday’s Slow Boring newsletter, Matt Yglesias outlines what he thinks Democrats should do on Build Back Better given Sen. Joe Manchin’s very clear lines in the sand. “[Manchin] will back $1.75 trillion in spending, which is a lot. But he wants it to actually be $1.75 trillion in spending,” he writes. “Progressives can be mad about this, but the fact is that $1.75 trillion in spending without phase-out gimmicks is better on the merits than what House leadership put together. Manchin is not ruining anything by pointing this out. He is making life harder for his colleagues in the sense that they will have to pick winners and losers. But it’s much better to do six good programs than to half-ass a dozen of them. And the reality is that $1.75 trillion is a lot of money; you can do a lot of good stuff for $1.75 trillion.”
As the NFL and NBA continue to adjust their COVID-19 health and safety protocols in response to Omicron, sportswriter Will Leitch makes the case that American society as a whole will soon be following their lead. “As we are learning, a ‘positive case’ in December 2021 means something very different than it did in July 2020. Sports may be the first public institution to not only acknowledge that, but to do something about it,” he writes. “The logical conclusion of the leagues’ new policy is that a fully vaccinated athlete who has an asymptomatic case of COVID will play in a game. This has surely happened already. It probably happened yesterday. But it’s one thing to suspect as much and another thing for the league to accept it. This may be the only path forward, though. If the leagues test every player every day, they’re going to detect so many positive cases it will be impossible to play—the rest of the season would look like the past chaotic week did. The leagues are now admitting what most of us are realizing but wary of saying out loud: COVID is just a part of our lives now, and if we don’t learn to live with it, we’re never going to be able to do anything.”
New York Times national political correspondent Jonathan Martin reported yesterday that Sen. John Thune—the no. 2 Senate Republican—is seriously weighing retirement next year in light of family concerns and frustrations with the direction of his party. “That Mr. Thune would even entertain retirement with the chance to ascend to Senate Republican leader illustrates both the strain of today’s Congress and the shadow Mr. Trump casts over the party,” Martin writes. “The senator’s departure would represent yet another exit, perhaps the most revealing one yet, by a mainstream Senate Republican who has grown frustrated with the capital’s political environment and the former president’s loyalty demands. The exodus began in 2018 with Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker retiring rather than facing primaries, and has accelerated this year. Part of Mr. Thune’s hesitation owes to Mr. Trump and the potential for the former president—who lashed out at Mr. Thune early this year when the senator rejected his attempts to overturn the election—to intervene in South Dakota’s Senate primary race. But the larger factor may be the longer-range prospect of taking over the Senate Republican caucus with Mr. Trump still in the wings or as the party’s standard-bearer in 2024.”
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Elizabeth Warren @SenWarrenGiant grocery store chains force high food prices onto American families while rewarding executives & investors with lavish bonuses and stock buybacks. I'm demanding they answer for putting corporate profits over consumers and workers during the pandemic. https://t.co/NvY2MKKJNP
Toeing the Company Line
In this week’s Sweep, Sarah announces her plans for the newsletter heading into 2022 and wonders whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is peaking too soon in the shadow 2024 GOP primary. Plus: Audrey on what’s up with all those gubernatorial primary challenges and a House race in Arizona that isn’t getting much attention. “Historically speaking, unseating an incumbent governor has always been extremely challenging,” Audrey writes. “That said, even in GOP gubernatorial primaries where incumbents are strongly favored to win reelection, Republican challengers—especially those endorsed by or aligned with Trump—still have the potential to shake up the race.”
For Tuesday’s Uphill, Ryan interviewed freshman GOP Rep. Blake Moore about his first year in Congress, the one-year anniversary of January 6, last month’s infrastructure vote in the House, the College Football Playoff, and more. What’s surprised Moore most? “Candidly, how much legislation gets done that has no chance of passing,” he said. “We’ve passed so much legislation that’s not going to go anywhere. What’s the point?”
David’s Tuesday French Press (🔒) provides a thoughtful and nuanced look at a recent report on the civilian death toll of America’s air wars in Iraq and Syria. “The New York Times report is important,” he writes. “It needs to be read. But when you read it, understand where the true indictment lies. The primary responsibility for civilian death and destruction lies with the terrorists who concealed themselves among the innocent. They used our own laws and values against us as a weapon of war. And when men are that evil, they leave even the most virtuous nations with few good options.”
Jonah invited Chris Stirewalt back on The Remnant yesterday for some Build Back Better punditry and a 2021 recap. Who was 2021’s biggest loser? What was the year’s most delightful pop culture surprise?
Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).