Biden’s first year is in the books
In a nearly two-hour press conference with reporters, the president bragged on his administration’s achievements, called out his opponents and reflected on his setbacks.
➝ As expected, Senate Republicans blocked a voting rights bill last night and two Democrats joined them to prevent a rule change that would have allowed the legislation to pass with a simple majority.
“I am disappointed — but I am not deterred,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “As dangerous new Republican laws plainly designed to suppress and subvert voting rights proliferate in states across the country, we will explore every measure and use every tool at our disposal to stand up for democracy.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, who leads the White House effort to pass voting rights, warned Senate Republicans and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona that the American people won’t forget this moment — nor would history.
“Generations of Americans have fought to strengthen and expand the freedom to vote. While victory was never assured and almost always preceded by setback, ultimately, we the People have prevailed,” Harris said. “We will again.
Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said her Senate colleagues failed to uphold their responsibility to ensure people can access the ballot box. “To everyone who took to the streets and poured their hearts into this fight: we see you, we hear you, we echo your frustration at this outcome,” Jayapal said in a separate statement. “And we promise you that progressives in Congress are not giving up. This will not be the end.”
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Today marks one year since President Biden was sworn into office.
And to celebrate the occasion, perhaps to the dismay of his communications team, he spent nearly two hours fielding questions from the White House Press Corps on the news of the day.
He was on time (!!!), took called on 24 reporters and set a record for the longest news conference, besting Barack Obama and Donald Trump by 24 and 25 minutes respectively.
I write about the substance of the press conference below. But in terms of style, I thought Biden was sharp, prepared, patient and personable for the most part.
And when he wasn’t, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was there to bat clean-up — as she did with a statement clarifying the president’s position on the simmering Russia-Ukraine crisis issued a half-hour after the presser.
Although the press conference was the main event in national politics yesterday, the White House launched its Year Two reset long before Biden stepped to the podium.
I took a super late lunch and returned to an inbox that received two press releases from the White House on the records Biden and Vice President Harris achieved in their first year of office and the results the administration delivered for working families. Speaking of Harris, Biden said she would be his running mate in 2024 if he runs for reelection and that “she’s doing a good job” on voting rights, one of the thorny issues in her portfolio.
Administration officials including White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain gave interviews to mainstream publications on a mission to resurrect previously stagnant legislation, promote those year-one accomplishments I referenced above and influence congressional Democrats to do the same. (It’s ironic that Dems had been begging the White House for months to take more victory laps.)
Better late than never, as they say.
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Biden started the surprisingly newsy press conference — on time, might I add — by bragging on his record while acknowledging the “frustration and fatigue” people feel from the pandemic. “For many of us, it’s too much to bear,” he said.
He admitted that the administration should have done more sooner on COVID-19 testing but pointed out the work it’s doing now to soothe an awful pain point for a lot of people, including the government website that launched yesterday where people can order four free at-home tests.
Biden called the pandemic “a job not finished,” not the new normal. I admire how optimistic he still is after all this time.
He also spoke about the high costs of consumer goods and outlined a three-part plan to slow inflation: Fix the supply chain, pass the Build Back Better Act and promote competition.
On Build Back Better, it feels like a foregone conclusion that the new strategy will be pass components of the larger legislation in hopes of giving Democrats fresh wins to campaign on for the midterm elections while forcing Republicans to defend why they oppose popular provisions like lower prescription prices and investments in climate resilience. “It’s clear to me that we’re gonna have to break it up,” Biden said.
This tracks with my reporting and public sentiment from congressional Democrats, including House Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, who said during his weekly press briefing that he expected Democrats to revisit Build Back Better after the resolution of voting rights. When they do, Biden admitted that two of his signature proposals — the Child Tax Credit and free community college — would likely be shelved until he has the votes in Congress to pass them.
I get the politics of breaking up Build Back Better. But from a legislative standpoint, Democrats would have passed individual bills if they could. The reason it was originally such a big proposal is that Democrats planned to use a Senate procedure that enabled them to pass the legislation with a simple majority. Separate proposals would require 60 votes. And good luck finding 10 Senate Republicans to support them.
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Let’s stay on the Republican Party for a moment.
On multiple occasions, Biden expressed disbelief at how united they’ve been in their fierce opposition to his agenda and administration.
As I said on Twitter: “All you have to do is look at the last decade-plus to see that the president’s optimism may have been misplaced.”
Republicans are uninterested in governing. And this isn’t me editorializing. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told colleagues and donors last November that Senate Republicans won’t release a legislative agenda before this year's midterms. And when asked yesterday on the GOP’s agenda if Republicans retake the Senate, here’s McConnell to CNN’s Manu Raju on Tuesday: “That is a very good question and I'll let you know when we take it back.”
President Biden pounced on the chance to exploit this perceived abdication of responsibility.
“I think the fundamental question is: What’s Mitch for?” Biden said. “What’s he for on immigration? What’s he for on dealing right Russia? What’s he for on these things? What are [Republicans] for?”
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Biden was asked for his message to Black voters who say that he doesn’t have their backs and see the push on voting rights as more of a last-minute PR push than a legitimate effort to pass the legislation.
He called the problem one of his own makings because he hasn’t directly communicated enough to Black voters.
“I have not been out in the community nearly enough. I've been here an awful lot,” Biden said. ”I find myself in a situation where I don't get a chance to look people in the eye, because of both COVID and things that are happening in Washington, to be able to go out and do the things that I've always been able to do pretty well: Connect with people, let them take a measure of my sincerity, let them take a measure of who I am.”
But he referenced his close relationships with members of the Black Caucus and Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, whose endorsement turned the tide in Biden’s favor during the 2020 election as evidence that he’s still committed to this critical voting bloc.
It’s unlikely the president’s words will be sufficient without action. Activists tell me in addition to voting rights, student loan debt relief, police reform and the racial wealth gap are issues their coalitions would like to see the president amplify with his megaphone. But none of these issues have enough buy-in from enough members of Congress right now to be passed as legislation Biden can pass into law.
Looking ahead to the upcoming year of his presidency, Biden listed his priorities: Get out of the White House more to connect with voters, bring in outside experts for perspective on key issues and campaign for Democrats in their midterm elections.
And during the press conference, he shared some of the stump speech you can expect to hear on the campaign trail. “We have faced some of the biggest challenges that we’ve ever faced in this country these past few years — challenges to our public health, challenges to our economy. But we’re getting through it,” Biden said. “I’ve long said it’s never been a good bet to bet against the American people or America. I believe that more than ever today.”
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Today in Politics
➝ President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing and then he and Vice President Harris will meet with his task force to discuss how the infrastructure law is being implemented. This afternoon, Biden will meed with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology before delivering remarks with the vice president at a Democratic National Committee grassroots event.
➝ First Lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will travel to Paramus, New Jersey and visit Bergen Community College to promote the administration’s American Rescue Plan.
➝ Secretary of State Antony Blinken will deliver a speech on the crisis in Ukraine this morning from Berlin, Germany.
➝ The House is in. Members are expected to vote on legislation that automatically enrolls veterans who are eligible for health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
➝ The Senate is in. Senators will consider judicial and executive nominations made by President Biden.
In The Know
➝ The Biden administration will provide 400 million free nonsurgical N95 masks to Americans at US community health centers and retail pharmacies for distribution. White House officials have said the federal government has a stockpile of more than 700 masks. [Sheryl Gay Stolberg / NYT]
➝ President Biden announced eight new federal nominees, several of which would make history if confirmed by the Senate. One would be the first Bangladeshi-American, the first Muslim-American woman, and only the second Muslim-American person to serve as a federal judge, while another would be the first Black woman — and the first woman of color to serve on the Third Circuit. Another would be the first Latina ever to serve on the Eastern District of California and the second Hispanic judge actively serving on that court and one would be the second Asian-American person to serve on the United States District Court for the District of Colorado.
➝ Related: President Biden also announced seven nominees for ambassadors and key roles in his administration. The ambassador roles include nominees for Brazil, the United Kingdom, Denmark and the Republic of Chad.
➝ Biden signed a memo to improve the cybersecurity of the nation’s defense and intelligence community systems from sophisticated malicious cyber activity, from both nation-state actors and cybercriminals.“Modernizing our cybersecurity defenses and protecting all federal networks is a priority for the Biden Administration,” the White House said in a statement. “And this [memo] raises the bar for the cybersecurity of our most sensitive systems.”
➝ Declassified surveillance footage of a strike last August shows the final minutes and aftermath of a botched US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. The strike killed 10 innocent people — including seven children — during the administration’s exit from the 20-year war in Afghanistan. [Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt, Azmat Khan, Evan Hill and Christoph Koettl / NYT]
➝ House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer sent a second letter to the Capitol Police Board requesting clarification on firearm safety in the US Capitol Complex. In a response to Hoyer’s December 14 letter, the Board promised to hold a briefing for members so they and visitors understand the rules in the US Capitol building, in the House office building, in other facilities and on the grounds.
➝ The FBI searched the Laredo home of Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar for an undisclosed reason. Cuellar is facing a progressive challenger for his House seat in this year’s midterm elections. [Valerie Gonzalez / The Monitor]
➝ The Supreme Court refused to stop the National Archives from turning over four portions of Trump presidential records to the House Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack. It’s a huge blow to the former president, who claimed the documents were protected by executive privilege. [Adam Liptak / NYT]
➝ Starbucks is no longer requiring its US workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The company said the decision is in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling striking down a Biden administration vaccine-or-test requirement for companies with more than 100 workers. [Dee-Ann Durbin]
➝ Black men have overtaken American Indian or Alaska Native men and White men as the demographic group most likely to die from a drug overdose. The CDC reports nearly 92,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2020 — a 30-percent increase from the year before — with preliminary 2021 figures pointing to an even higher death toll. [John Gramlich / Pew Research Center]
➝ The University of Michigan reached a $490 million settlement with more than 1,000 people who say they were sexually assaulted by a former sports doctor during his nearly four-decade career at the school. "We hope this settlement will begin the healing process for survivors," said Jordan Acker, chair of the University of Michigan Board of Regents. "At the same time, the work that began two years ago, when the first brave survivors came forward, will continue.” [NPR via The Associated Press]
➝ Starting gender-affirming hormone treatment in adolescence is linked to better mental health for transgender people than waiting until adulthood. “This study is particularly relevant now because many state legislatures are introducing bills that would outlaw this kind of care for transgender youth,” Jack Turban, a postdoctoral scholar in pediatric and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, said. “We are adding to the evidence base that shows why gender-affirming care is beneficial from a mental health perspective.” [Erin Digitale / Stanford University]
➝ Snapchat changed its friend recommendation feature to make it harder for drug dealers to connect with children. But parents of kids who’ve overdosed on drugs purchased on Snapchat are skeptical the update will do much to stop drug dealing on the app. [Louise Matsakis and Kate Snow / NBC News]
➝ Instagram launched Instagram Subscriptions with a test group of creators who can offer exclusive content to followers at a price point from 99 cents per month to $99.99 per month. Just 10 US creators have access to the new feature to enable Instagram to collect feedback and then iterate upon it. [Sarah Perez / TechCrunch]
➝ Cardi B offered to pay the burial costs for all 17 people killed in a Bronx fire earlier this month — including repatriation expenses for victims who will be buried in Gambia, a West African country several of the victims had ties. “I cannot begin to imagine the pain and anguish that the families of the victims are experiencing, but I hope that not having to worry about the costs associated with burying their loved ones will help as they move forward and heal,” the Bronx native said in a statement. “I send my prayers and condolences to everyone affected by this horrific tragedy.” [AP News]
Read All About It
Rachel Tashjian on André Leon Talley:
Talley was a gracious critic, bowing at the foot of the spectacle, whether fashion show or celebrity style moment, and then summoning all his knowledge and experience to interpret what he saw. He embodied the fashion exegesis at its finest: a wild, outlandish train of words and thoughts that lead you to imagine, to fantasize, to feel. You begin not merely to fill in the details, but picture yourself there. No fashion journalist or writer has ever connected so directly with their source material; it was the product of a multitude of conflicts of interest, if you want to play by strict journalistic ethics, but it gave his work, and the industry, gravitas.
Omicron’s spike protein is different from the one the vaccines were targeted to fight, and that’s why we’re seeing news stories that the vaccines are “less effective.” It would be more accurate to say that some people’s vaccines will continue to offer strong protection against getting sick with omicron, but that others’ offer much less. We just don’t know who.
This crucial work is a long shot. It hinges on breakthroughs in technology and our current understanding of the immune system, because there’s a lot researchers still don’t know about how our cells defend us from infection. And the universal vaccine approaches that scientists are experimenting with — from universities and even the US Army — have never been used on large scales before.
Even the faint hope of preventing another global cataclysm — and contributing to the end of the one we’re living through now — deserves money and scientific attention, researchers told Vox. It could take years of sustained effort, but some researchers are confident that universal vaccines will emerge.
Eleanor Cummins on coroners:
Historically, coroners have been political appointees or elected officials associated with the criminal justice system. They investigate any death that doesn’t appear natural—a broad category that includes suicides, homicides, and accidents. They may also pitch in with pandemics, natural disasters, and other mass casualty events that overwhelm other frontline services. For those who die in a hospital, the majority of death certificates are signed by physicians. But when people begin to die en masse at home, as happened in the early parts of the pandemic, the responsibility falls on coroners and medical examiners. In 2018, the most recent year for which national data is available, more than 1.3 million deathswere referred for further investigation, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In the last century, the role of coroners and medical examiners has become increasingly important for tracking diseases, researching outcomes of both chronic and infectious diseases and safety issues, and developing effective public health intervention strategies. But unlike medical examiners, who are physicians and, in ideal cases, trained forensic pathologists, the bar for coroners is often much lower. In some states, anyone 18 years or older with no prior felonies may be elected coroner. Once they’re in office, training is patchwork; some jurisdictions require no further education at all.
Yair Rosenberg on why so many people still misunderstand anti-Semitism:
At the same time, because this expression of anti-Jewish prejudice is so different from other forms of bigotry, many people don’t recognize it. As in Texas, law-enforcement officials overlook it. Social-media companies ignore it. Anti-racism activists—who understand racism as prejudice wielded by the powerful—cannot grasp it, because anti-Semitism constructs its Jewish targets as the privileged and powerful. And political partisans, more concerned with pinning the problem on their opponents, spend their time parsing the identity of anti-Semitic individuals, rather than countering the ideas that animate them.
In short, although many people say they are against anti-Semitism today, they don’t understand the nature of what they oppose. And that’s part of why anti-Semitism abides.
Kurt Streeter on the NFL:
Why can’t we turn away?
Right along with the drama, the crushing blows and brilliant spectacle of it all, another reason is the game’s unrivaled ability to bring people together. The nation’s most popular sport remains all-powerful in how it unifies, even during the pandemic, and when the divisions in American life seem to grow wider with each passing day.
The most ardent boosters of rival politicians find themselves elbow to elbow at bars or perched together in the upper tiers of [NFL] stadiums. And even if they don’t watch together in person, the TV and streaming broadcasts allow people with divergent views on everything else to share in a spectacular interception from the team they both love.
Sarah Wood on being tired of explaining why she doesn’t drink:
Of all the things I anticipated might happen when I stopped drinking, I never expected to need talking points. After my umpteenth time stumbling through an explanation of why I wasn’t drinking, I prepared answers. Scribbled in my notes app, I carried around my bullet points like a security blanket.
My friends were incredibly supportive, but others were less so. When I said I didn’t drink, I often got a pitying look or a raised eyebrow. I’d find myself justifying the decision, recounting my drinking history to a stranger. Some people outright asked me, “Are you an alcoholic?”
Not only is this an extremely personal question, ****it can also be stigmatizing. Alcohol-use disorder (AUD), what is colloquially referred to as “alcoholism,” is a medical condition that ranges in severity and affects more than 14 million American adults. The reach of AUD is likely even wider than this number reflects given historic underreporting.
There was a period of time after the first season of Cheer aired on Netflix that you could not escape the Navarro College cheerleading team. Longtime coach Aldama and the “faces” of the team who were centered during the first season — Marshall, Gabi Butler, Lexi Brumback, Morgan Simianer, and Jerry Harris — were on morning shows and late-night talk shows. The Dawgs met Oprah and Joe Biden, and they made money on Cameo. They appeared in commercials, and they booked modeling gigs. Aldama’s 14 national championships were highly impressive, and she and her team exploded into a level of fame that assumed their supremacy in the sport was impenetrable. And yet the second season of Cheer, the nine episodes of which dropped on Netflix on January 12, should not have been about them. TVCC, the scrappy team with a gigantic chip on their shoulders, hesitancy to smile for the cameras, and simmering dislike of Navarro were the real stars of season two.
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