Biden attempts to reassure an exhausted nation
The president wants us to believe we can handle Omicron. Plus: The latest instance of Republicans behaving badly and the cute Christmas ornament that might make me get a tree this year.
It’s official: The Omicron variant of the coronavirus that the World Health Organization designated as a variant of concern last Friday is now in North America after two cases in Canada were confirmed. “This development demonstrates that our monitoring system is working,” Canada’s prime minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement.
This morning President Joe Biden attempted to reassure an exhausted nation that all is well, despite reports from public health officials that Omicron is much more transmissible than the highly contagious Delta variant that threw a wrench in our recovery a few months ago.
I’ll have more on Biden’s remarks below. But for now, let’s switch gears and discuss yet another instance of Republicans behaving badly.
GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado refused to apologize to Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota today after a video surfaced last Friday of Boebert sharing a far-fetched story about getting into an elevator with Omar, who said the incident never happened:
I look to my left and there she is: Ilhan Omar. And I said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine.
“Today, I graciously accepted a call from Rep. Lauren Boebert in the hope of receiving a direct apology for falsely claiming she met me in an elevator, suggesting I was a terrorist and for a history of anti-Muslim hate,” Omar, one of the two first Muslim women elected to Congress in 2018, said in a statement. “Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies, Rep. Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments. She instead doubled down on her rhetoric and I decided to end the unproductive call.”
When reached for comment, Press Secretary Jake Settle referred me to this Rep. Boebert’s response on Instagram.
“In America, we’re known in terms of our political system for having what we call political entrepreneurs or politicians that don’t follow the party and they do what they need to do to please their constituents. But this is taking it to another level,” Chris Haynes, associate professor of political science and national security at the University of New Haven, said during a phone interview this afternoon. [Comments like Rep. Boebert’s] make it very difficult for representatives like Rep. Omar to do their work. This comes with, not only the pressure of additional media, but you have obviously threatening phone calls, constituents that call in based on this — it can clog up the phone lines can, it can clog up your staff.”
In addition to the personal impact of extreme rhetoric on lawmakers, Haynes said it also diminishes people’s trust in government. “It erodes people’s view of government in general and almost comicalizes it and makes it no longer this prime, problem-solving institution that’s trying to address the issues that confront us today and solve them, but more like a slideshow that’s there for entertainment or for individual members to just kind of raise money of it and create soundbites or just become famous.”
Democratic leadership issued a joint statement hours after the video went public condemning Boebert’s comments:
This language and behavior are far beneath the standard of integrity, dignity and decency with which the Constitution and our constituents require that we act in the House. We call upon Congresswoman Boebert to fully retract these comments and refrain from making similar ones going forward.
The leaders also called on House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to take real action against the members of his conference who would rather incite culture wars than govern for their constituents. “Racism and bigotry of any form, including Islamophobia, must always be called out, confronted and condemned in any place it is found,” House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, and Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar said in the joint statement. “This is particularly true in the halls of Congress, which are the very heart of our democracy.”
Leader McCarthy said in a statement that he spoke to Rep. Boebert last Friday and encouraged her to meet with Rep. Omar:
She has apologized for what she said and has reached out to Congresswoman Omar to meet next week. I spoke with Leader Hoyer today to help facilitate that meeting so that Congress can get back to talking to each other and working on the challenges facing the American people.
But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia complicated McCarthy’s efforts to move on from the controversy with an ignorant Islamaphobic tweet that claimed Omar and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts are undeserving of an apology for the constant right-wing attacks they’re constantly the target of. (Remember, Greene was stripped of her committee assignments in February after she called for Speaker Pelosi to be executed.)
“You need leadership in place that is willing to stand up for these types of norms,” Haynes said. “The problem is norms are only as good as whether or not the people actually support them or care about them. And that’s what we’re running into nowadays with the lack of support from Republican leadership and even the Republican base. The fact that we were willing to accept the things that Donald Trump said throughout his presidency and kind of just brush them aside, I think this is the natural consequence of the American electorate not really punishing elected officials — and elected officials themselves not standing up and saying, ‘This is not the kind of government that we need as Americans,’ in that sense.”
Back to Biden and Omicron.
Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president said the new variant is not a cause for panic. “We’re going to fight and beat this new variant as well,” adding that he doesn’t expect any of the shutdowns we experienced at the start of the pandemic.
As expected, Biden spent much of his time talking about vaccines. “All of this is confusing to a lot of people,” he said. “If you are vaccinated but still worried about the new variant, get your booster. If you aren’t vaccinated, get that shot. Go get that first shot.” The president also said his team is working with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson for contingency plans if needed. But Dr. Fauci expressed confidence yesterday that the vaccines should hold up against Omicron.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked at her briefing earlier if the president has learned any lessons from how he managed the Delta variant. She listed two takeaways: being completely transparent to the public about what the administration doesn’t know and making it clear that they have a plan. “The president will always err on the side of protecting the American people.”
Biden spent his afternoon focused on the other early threat to his presidency’s success: A throttled supply chain.
He hosted a roundtable discussion with business executives from corporations including Best Buy, Etsy, Mattel and Walmart to discuss how he can help them get products where they need to go so you can avoid first-world problems like shipping delays on those Crimmus gifts you can’t wait to send to your loved ones.
The president was supposed to give remarks after the meeting, but the White House rescheduled for Wednesday. An official a White House official said the cancellation was because Biden wanted to ensure ample time spent with the business leaders who traveled for the roundtable today.
Congress is back this week. And it’s wild how much shit they have to do.
First, the lawmakers have to pass a spending bill by Friday to avoid a government shutdown.
Then, they’ll need to increase the amount of money the country can borrow so we can pay our bills and avoid default.
Senators will also work to pass legislation to appropriate $768 billion in defense spending for the next fiscal year and repeal the resolution that authorized the Iraq War.
And you didn’t think I forgot about the Build Back Better Act, the jobs and climate plan that passed the House before Thanksgiving. Democrats in both the House and Senate say that both chambers agree to about 90 percent of the plan to invest in health care, child care, education and the environment. But it’s still unclear how smooth the negotiations will be for that final 10 percent. Remember: Democrats have no votes to spare in the evenly split Senate. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said on Sunday she thinks they’ll pass Build Back Better by Christmas. We’ll see.
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Today in Politics
After President Biden and Vice President Harris received their daily intelligence briefing this morning, they met with the administration’s COVID-19 response team for an update on the Omicron variant. Then he delivered remarks on Omicron. This afternoon, the president met with business executives to discuss the holiday shopping season and his administration’s work to prevent supply chain bottlenecks.
Biden’s week ahead:
Tomorrow, the president hosts a signing ceremony for three bills related to justice and equity for servicemembers before traveling to Minnesota to promote the bipartisan infrastructure deal.
Biden will deliver remarks on Wednesday to commemorate World AIDS Day, launch the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and announce the next fundraising cycle for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will also speak. Then the president will be joined by the first lady, vice president and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff for a Menorah lighting at the White House in celebration of Hanukkah.
The president will visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to discuss how his administration plans to fight the virus as we enter the winter months and face the Omicron variant. Then the First and Second families will attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse, where the president and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will speak.
The president is also expected on Friday to deliver remarks on the November jobs report.
First Lady Jill Biden unveiled the White House holiday theme and seasonal décor — “Gifts from the Heart” — with second graders from a Maryland elementary school. During the event, the first lady thanked over 100 local volunteers who helped decorate the White House and honored the National Guard families spending the holidays apart.
The Senate met this afternoon to resume consideration of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets the annual budget and expenditures for US armed forces.
The House is in recess until tomorrow.
In the Know
— Jack Dorsey is stepping down as Twitter’s CEO. CTO Parag Agrawal will replace Dorsey, who will remain on the board until 2022. [Jessica Bursztynsky / CNBC]