The political appeal is obvious. If it’s true Democrats are following political science not medical science, they’re hypocrites who don’t actually believe in the importance of the mitigation measures they’ve championed for two years. Indeed, some Democratic officials and celebrities have invited the hypocrisy charge by pushing for mask mandates or quarantine standards they then flouted, including at the Super Bowl. (Lots of fans didn’t wear masks, either, but then again the fans aren’t making the rules.)
That might help immunize Republican politicians who bucked the advice of public health experts as the United States ran up a death toll of 930,000.
“The scientific facts have not changed in the last few weeks,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday. “The only science that’s changed in the last two weeks is the political science. The only data that’s changed in the last two weeks is Democrats’ polling data.”
But the scientific context has changed.
Data compiled by The Washington Post shows covid cases in the United States have dropped 44 percent over the past week. Hospitalizations are down 22 percent. And deaths slipped 6 percent — but with more than 2,400 Americans dying every day, the new “normal” seems awfully bleak.
“As a result of all this progress and the tools we now have, we’re moving toward a time when covid isn’t a crisis but is something we can protect against and treat,” Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator, said at a briefing on Wednesday.
“Public health, science, medicine is the center of the work here,” he said, but the administration has been consulting other stakeholders including “local public health leaders, governors, business leaders,” indicating that issues like the economy also have weight.
There are two more reasons to doubt McConnell’s explanation that internal Democratic polling is the only factor driving Democrats to lift covid restrictions.
And the public polls on mask and vaccine requirements don’t seem to bear out that Democrats face serious political peril over mitigation measures. Americans are far from united in what precautionary measures they want or don’t want.
- An Axios/Ipsos survey this week found 21 percent said it was time to get rid of covid mandates or requirements, 29 percent favored opening up while retaining some precautions, 23 percent argued for keeping precautions in place, and 21 percent said mitigation measures should be increased.
- Asked whether they would support or oppose mandatory masking in public indoor places, 32 percent of respondents to a YouGov/Economist poll said they would strongly support the policy, 20 percent said somewhat support, 10 percent said somewhat oppose, while 27 percent said they would strongly oppose it.
- Fifty-six percent of Americans want their state to have a mask mandate, though there’s a big split between support from vaccinated people (66 percent) and unvaccinated (34 percent).
- There’s also a partisan divide on the same question, with 85 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents but just 25 percent of Republicans favoring mask mandates.
So is politics a factor at all? Yes, of course. The Daily 202 argued here that it is, and it has to be. Governors (and presidents) are elected to assess the trade-offs of any given policy proposal and face the voters’ judgment whether they succeed or fail.
On balance, American optimism or pessimism has largely tracked the ebb and flow of the virus, as Gallup shows here. You would expect tolerance for restrictions to rise when covid is raging, and for more Americans to say it’s time to ease up when the pandemic recedes.
But a recent Pew Research poll highlighted how Americans are less satisfied today with their elected officials and public health experts than they were a few months into the pandemic.
Back in December, The Daily 202 highlighted remarks by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D), who said in a radio interview that easy access to vaccines meant “the end of the medical emergency” posed by the pandemic.
“Everybody had more than enough opportunity to get vaccinated,” Polis said, adding: “At this point, if you haven’t been vaccinated, it’s really your own darn fault.” And “those who get sick, it’s almost entirely their own darn fault.”
Emily Guskin contributed to this column.
Moscow expels senior U.S. diplomat
“Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists accused each other Thursday of violating a cease-fire in the eastern part of the country, a potential flash point in what Western officials say are Russian preparations for a possible attack by growing forces massed near Ukraine’s borders,” Alex Horton and Rachel Pannett report.
“In Moscow, the Russian government ordered the expulsion of the U.S. Embassy’s second-ranking diplomat, Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman, the State Department confirmed Thursday. No reason was immediately given for the expulsion of Gorman, whom a department spokesperson described in a statement as ‘a key member of the Embassy’s senior leadership team.’ The statement called the move ‘unprovoked’ and ‘an escalatory step’ and said the United States is ‘considering our response.’”
Evidence suggests ‘Russia is moving towards an imminent invasion’ of Ukraine, U.S. says
Senators to attempt symbolic reprimand of Russia
“A bipartisan group of senators will try on Thursday to pass a symbolic resolution that calls on President Joe Biden to ‘impose significant costs’ on Russia if it invades Ukraine in the coming days,” Politico’s Andrew Desiderio reports.
“The introduction of the non-binding measure from a half-dozen senior members of both parties comes after a bigger set of cross-aisle negotiators failed to reach an agreement on a comprehensive bill that would have boosted Ukraine’s defenses and sanctioned Russia if it reinvades its western neighbor.”
Florida House approves Republican measure to ban abortion after 15 weeks
“The measure heads to a Florida Senate committee meeting on Monday and could be passed by both chambers as early as next week. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signaled his support for the legislation and is widely expected to sign the bill into law,” Caroline Kitchener reports.
Trump endorses Texas congressional candidate accused of abusive behavior toward her estranged husband’s daughter
“Former president Donald Trump on Thursday offered his ‘Complete and Total Endorsement’ of Monica De La Cruz, a Republican congressional candidate in Texas whose campaign has been dogged by an allegation that she was abusive toward her estranged husband’s daughter,” John Wagner reports.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
On the California Supreme Court, Leondra Kruger is known for her ‘persuasive powers’ among the justices
Scott Wilson details an “early test for Kruger on this state’s highest court [that] captured the two sides of a jurist described at nearly every turn as a brilliant legal mind. There is her prevailing liberal outlook on many issues important to Democrats. Then there is her conservative approach to the courts — venues to interpret, not make, policy or the law. She may be liberal, but she is not an activist.”
“That may pose a challenge for President Biden, who will be making a Supreme Court choice in an important election year. With his domestic policy agenda flagging, Biden is being counted on by supporters to pick a future justice who will excite Democratic voters. Kruger, while liberal in outlook, would not be an ideological choice given her interest in procedure, precedent and ensuring that the public has faith in the way the law works.”
Here’s why Republicans stalled Raskin’s bid for top Fed post
“Republicans, especially from energy-producing states such as Pennsylvania and Wyoming, are opposed to [Sarah Bloom Raskin] in part because of her 2020 criticism of the Treasury Department and Fed providing broad-based emergency-lending backstops to assist businesses during the pandemic. She said the backstops should have been designed to avoid lending to highly indebted fossil-fuel companies,” the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Ackerman and Nick Timiraos report.
“Republican lawmakers more recently said they want more information about Ms. Raskin’s work as a board member at an obscure financial technology payments firm, Reserve Trust. The GOP officials, led by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, say they are perturbed by what they perceive as insufficient candor about her role as a director at the company.”
The larger backdrop: “The impasse comes amid philosophical fissures between some progressive Democrats, who want the central bank to play a more aggressive role addressing climate change and other social issues, and Republicans who fear the Fed is straying beyond its dual mandate of stable prices and full employment.”
The Biden administration promised bankruptcy reforms. So why is it still fighting student loan borrowers in court?
“The Education Department’s handling of requests for bankruptcy discharges from federal student loan borrowers is raising new questions about the Biden administration’s commitment to overhaul its restrictive policy,” Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports.
“It’s been nearly four months since Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid, told Congress the agency was working with the Justice Department to revise its approach — a pledge that consumer advocates believed would usher in a new era. Many assumed the Education Department would soften its stance in pending cases, but the agency has continued to contest claims.”
In military-modernization effort, Biden to seek $770 billion for 2023 defense budget
“President Joe Biden is expected to ask Congress for a U.S. defense budget exceeding $770 billion for the next fiscal year as the Pentagon seeks to modernize the military, according to three sources familiar with the negotiations, eclipsing the record budget requests by former President Donald Trump,” Reuters’s Mike Stone reports.
Biden to tout $1 billion in funding for Great Lakes restoration during trip to Ohio
“President Biden plans to visit Ohio on Thursday to tout $1 billion in funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year that will be used to clean and restore environmentally degraded sites around the Great Lakes, a major source of drinking water in the region,” John Wagner reports.
The president’s new global vaccine push is central to his covid strategy. But it’s running out of funds.
“The Biden administration is turbocharging its effort to boost inoculations in low- and middle-income countries to prevent new, more-transmissible variants from emerging — an effort that would also protect Americans at home, according to three senior administration officials working on the effort,” Politico’s Erin Banco reports.
“But the Biden team is facing a major obstacle: It is running out of money to support the global vaccination push, and negotiations with Congress on securing new funding have stalled.”
Biden administration debates overhauling a major Trump-era Medicare program
“The Trump program — known as a direct contracting model — allows private companies to participate in Medicare as part of a broader health department effort to improve care while limiting the government’s costs,” Politico’s Rachael Levy and Adam Cancryn report.
Texting through an insurrection, visualized
“Thousands of frantic text messages that might have otherwise been lost to history are now key to piecing together a picture of the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack.” Our colleagues walk you through them.
Hang on, where’s Biden’s pandemic testing board?
“When President Joe Biden was campaigning for office, he said that to beat the coronavirus, the U.S. needed the testing equivalent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Production Board,” ProPublica‘s Bianca Fortis reports. “The day after his inauguration, Biden signed an executive order creating the Pandemic Testing Board. He said he would be putting the ‘full force of the federal government’ behind expanding testing.”
“A year later, though, it’s remarkably hard to tell what the board has done. As far as we can find, the group has put out no press releases, held no hearings and made no announcements. Biden’s executive order states that the head of the board would be, or be chosen by, the White House’s head of COVID-19 response. That’s Jeffrey Zients, but when we contacted him, he didn’t respond.”
Will the GOP emerge from his primary season reborn?
“Republicans are embarking on a primary season that is poised to reshape the GOP for a generation, and that journey begins in Texas. In less than two weeks, the first primary election of 2022 will take place in the nation’s second-most populous state, and it’s a blockbuster: The state’s Republican governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner all face spirited challenges, as do several GOP House incumbents,” Politico‘s David Siders reports.
“From there, fractious primaries will unfold across the electoral map in the coming months, cementing a more populist orientation for the GOP and Donald Trump’s status as the party’s lodestar, or setting a more traditionally conservative course.”
Biden will tout the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law at 12:15 p.m. in Lorain, Ohio.
At 1:45 p.m., the president will depart Ohio. He’s expected back at the White House at 3:15 p.m.
A lost pup is following Sen. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) around the Dirksen Senate Office Building this morning, per Politico‘s Burgess Everett.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.