The number Democrats should be paying close attention to
A double-digit enthusiasm gap could spell trouble for Democrats in November. Plus: Pfizer’s CEO predicts annual COVID vaccines over COVID boosters and Kyrsten Sinema more support from her state.
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Politics is the ultimate “what have you done for me lately?” business.
And while it’s better for Republicans to do nothing at all than to govern an unpopular agenda, Democrats rarely enjoy this luxury.
So if I’m a Democratic politician this morning, I’m discouraged by new polling from NBC News released today that shows a 14-point gap in high interest between Democratic and Republican voters in this year’s midterm elections.
Voter turnout will be critical for Democrats to have any chance of retaining control of Congress for two more years in the face of a treacherous political environment and historic trends that point to a red wave later this year.
Some of this is the Democrats’ own doing.
President Joe Biden ran on a commitment to get the pandemic under control. And by several metrics, he’s made incredible strides. Three in four Americans are fully vaccinated. Most schools are open. The administration has dramatically expanded the government’s testing capacity.
But Americans don’t live within the context of data. And none of it accounts for the pandemic fatigue most people feel as new variants, uneven messaging from public health officials and a vaccine and masking conspiracy theories have overshadowed Biden’s progress.
Democrats promised an ambitious agenda if voters delivered the White House, House and Senate but failed without the majorities to pass some of it. (Speaker Nancy Pelosi can afford to lose just three Democratic votes and Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer is navigating a split Senate that requires Vice President Kamala Harris to remain in Washington to cast tie-breaking votes instead of traveling the country and connecting with voters.)
President Biden positioned himself and his 36 years of Senate experience as the X factor to overcome those slim margins. You’ve read enough of this newsletter though to know that’s not been the case a year into his term.
Some Democrats believe the party should brag on what they’ve accomplished with those slim margins and spend less time attacking each other for what hasn’t passed yet (voting rights, Build Back Better, police reform, etc.). The assumption is doing so will refocus the attention on Republican inaction instead of perceived Democratic infighting.
“I’ve been saying to my party quite a bit these days: Let’s stop mimicking what the Republican talking points are,” Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said in an interview on MSNBC this morning. “Let’s see what we can do by focusing on that part of the glass that is half-full rather than keep concentrating on that half-empty part.
There’s also a growing interest to scale back their ambitions to send whatever legislation can get the votes to the President’s desk so Democrats can take as many victory laps as possible before the midterms. Expect to see this with Build Back Better in the coming weeks.
To be fair, November is a long way away. And so much can change between now and then — especially if the Biden administration is able to turn the pandemic around and reverse the inflation it believes comes with it. And who knows what story will overtake the news cycle pushing their current obsession with Democratic politics to the margins? But from where we stand today, if Democrats fail to close that double-digit enthusiasm gap by then, things could get worse for them — and the country — before they get better.
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained in 123 words during an interview this morning on CNN’s State of the Union why a Russian invasion of Ukraine would have global ramifications:
What’s at stake here are some very basic principles of international relations that have been established since two World Wars and the Cold War that have kept peace and security. Principles like one nation can't go in by force and change the borders of another, principles like one nation can't dictate to another its policies, its choices, including with whom it will associate, a principle like the fact that you cannot now, in the 21st century, purport to exert a sphere of influence to try to subjugate your neighbors to your will. If we allow those things to go forward and stand with impunity, then that opens a Pandora's box that countries well beyond Europe will see and maybe decide to act on.
British intelligence indicates the Russian government plans to overthrow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine. “I can't comment on specific pieces of intelligence. But we have been warning about just this kind of tactic for weeks,” Blinken said. “And we have spoken to that publicly.”
Republicans like Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said in an interview on CNN after Blinken’s that Biden shouldn’t wait for Russia to invade Ukraine before imposing economic sanctions on President Vladimir Putin.
“I believe that we need to act now,” Ernst said. “When it comes to pushing back against Russia, we need to show strength and not be in a position of doctrine of appeasement, which seems to be how President Biden has worked his administration.”
President Biden met with national security team in person and virtually on Saturday for an update on the current state of Russian military operations on Ukraine’s border. “President Biden again affirmed that should Russia further invade Ukraine, the United States will impose swift and severe consequences on Russia with our allies and partners,” a White House official said in a statement.
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We’re still averaging nearly 745,000 COVID-19 cases per week, but there’s evidence that the Omicron variant is starting to recede.
So what does that mean for our daily lives?
“As we get into the next weeks to month or so, we will see throughout the entire country the level of infection get to below what I call that area of control,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser said this morning on ABC’s This Week. “And there's a big bracket of control. Control means you're not eliminating it, you're not eradicating it, but it gets down to such a low level that it's essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections that we have learned to live with.”
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Saturday that he prefers an annual COVID-19 vaccine over frequent boosters as a tool to end the pandemic and provide maximum protection against hospitalization and death from the virus.
“This will not be a good scenario. What I'm hoping [is] that we will have a vaccine that you will have to do once a year,” Bourla said in an interview with Israel’s N12 News on Saturday when asked whether he sees boosters being administered frequently on a regular basis. “Once a year — it is easier to convince people to do it. It is easier for people to remember.”
Pfizer is researching a vaccine that covers the highly transmissible Omicron variant and any other variants that could crop up. And Bourla said Pfizer could be ready to file for approval and mass produce it as soon as March.
This story was first reported by Reuters. A White House official did not respond to a request for comment from the administration.
Vaccines were responsible for more than 60 percent of Pfizer’s sales last year, with vaccine revenue soaring to $14.6 billion from $1.7 billion a year earlier. COVID vaccine sales accounted for $13 billion of that revenue. Revenue from non-COVID vaccines increased seven percent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared on Friday data from three new reports that show the effectiveness of booster shots. In one report, vaccine effectiveness increased up to 94 percent following a third shot — even higher than it was in the first six months after vaccination.
For both the Delta and Omicron variants, there was a decline in vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization over time. A booster dose protected nine in 10 people against hospitalization with Omicron, which nearly matches the effectiveness against the Delta variant and is even higher than vaccine effectiveness after the first two doses of the vaccine.
“Overall, those who received a booster dose had the most protection against emergency room visits, urgent care clinic visits, and hospitalizations,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.
The CDC however isn’t ready to update its definition of fully vaccinated to include boosters.
“What we really are working to do is pivot the language to make sure that everybody is as up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines as they personally could be, should be, based on when they got their last vaccine,” Walensky said.
The CDC said that if you recently got your second dose, you’re “up to date” because you’re ineligible for a booster. But if you’re eligible for a booster and you haven’t gotten it, you’re not up to date and you need to get your booster in order to be.
Walensky said this is the same criteria public health officials use for flu shots. She also said that the CDC’s definition to include the first two doses has nothing to do with the impact it could have on the total number of fully vaccinated people since there are millions of Americans who are eligible for a booster dose but have not received it.
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Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona was censured by the Arizona Democratic Party on Saturday for her vote this week to uphold the 60-vote threshold to enable Senate Democrats to pass a voting rights bill Sinema also voted for with a simple majority.
“I want to be clear, the Arizona Democratic Party is a diverse coalition with plenty of room for policy disagreements, however on the matter of the filibuster and the urgency to protect voting rights, we have been crystal clear,” Raquel Terán, chair of the ADP said in a statement, which also referenced proposed legislation from Arizona Republicans that would eliminate the state’s vote-by-mail system, jail election workers and put partisan cronies in charge of elections. “In the choice between an archaic legislative norm and protecting the Arizonans’ right to vote, we choose the latter and we always will.”
Sinema’s office reiterated on Saturday that she supports and has voted for voting rights legislation each time it’s come to the floor and has been consistent in advocacy for the 60-vote threshold.
“During three terms in the US House and now in the Senate, Kyrsten has always promised Arizonans she would be an independent voice for the state — not for either political party,” a statement said. “She’s delivered for Arizonans and has always been honest about where she stands.”
A censure is a formal expression of disapproval that’s symbolic in nature. But the rebuke is more proof of the political costs of what local and national Democrats view as continued defiance of the party’s priorities. Two women’s advocacy groups withdrew their support from Sinema going forward as well this week. And she could face a serious primary challenge when she’s up for reelection in 2024.
In addition to upholding the 60-vote threshold for voting rights, Sinema also threw a wrench in Democrats’ plan to pay for President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda with the additional revenue raised by increasing the corporate tax rate.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia also voted to block a rule change to pass voting rights. And his announcement on Fox News Sunday in December ended months of negotiation Build Back Better. Progressives are still upset with Manchin after they lowered their asking price by trillions of dollars and the House passed the bipartisan infrastructure deal that Manchin also negotiated without any assurances he’d vote for BBB. (It was Republican votes that pushed the infrastructure deal over the finished line after six progressives from “The Squad” voted against in protest.)
The difference between Sinema and Manchin though is red and blue. Sinema comes from a state that voted for the last three Republican nominees before flipping to the Democratic column in 2020. But Manchin represents a state that President Biden lost by 39 points, a reality he points to when he opposes Democratic policies that would help West Virginians.
“We’ve come from different areas. It’s not just all urban, metropolitan areas. Those of us who come from rural areas and there’s a complete different constituency that we are serve,” Manchin said this week to CNN’s Manu Raju. “So I think I’ve been more than considerate on the things I’ve been and where I can’t — I’ve been telling them from day one. I’m not a Washington Democrat so the base they have is a different base than I have.”
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Today in Politics
→ President Biden is at Camp David with no public events on his schedule.
→ Vice President Harris is in Los Angeles with no public events on her public schedule.
Read All About It
Don Moynihan on the new education “transparency bills”:
Transparency bills vary, but the central theme is demanding an unprecedented level of reporting on the part of teachers. It is not just books in the classroom or curriculum, which are already widely available. It is “the posting of lesson plans, handouts, web-based material, and advocacy exercises.” Videos clips played in the classroom may have to be documented, and guest speakers tracked.
The result is to impose a new burden on teachers. It redirects their time away from their primary job of teaching kids and towards reporting mandates. Such increased regulation undermines school performance.
The premise of this movement is that teachers are unaccountable to parents, and thus need to be subject to more intense scrutiny. But teachers are perhaps the most accountable public officials we encounter. They are subject not just to federal, state and local government oversight; we also elect officials whose only job is to monitor schools and teachers. Moreover, scrutiny of elected officials has vastly increased, for better or worse. The growing emphasis on test-scores and innovations like value-added modeling make teachers highly subject to individualized forms of accountability.
Marion Renault on pandemic apathy:
When I bring this all up with my therapist, she tells me I am not her only patient struggling with pandemic apathy. Right now, she says, it seems to be especially afflicting those who, until recently, had considered themselves highly engaged, cooperating as much as possible with public health guidelines to protect society’s most vulnerable and enact their core values of justice and compassion. In our apathy, we finally yield to a dread that all our careful compliance has been in vain, given omicron’s brutal strain on the health care system. “We’re always looking to make sense out of something we can’t make sense of,” she advises. “Dissociation is a survival mode.”
Errol Lewis on Alvin Bragg, Manhattan’s new district attorney:
Bragg, like other candidates, vowed to continue a process started by longtime DA Cy Vance to dramatically dial down the number of prosecutions, especially when it came to lesser offenses. Overall, the number of cases brought by the office fell by 60 percent under Vance, according to the office’s data dashboard — and during all but the last two of those years, crime also fell precipitously to the lowest levels in decades.
And that’s the point. New York has already proved that reform measures don’t automatically lead to spikes in crime. But a chorus of naysayers are saying what they always do: that Gotham is perpetually on the verge of collapsing into a crime-ridden hellhole.
Last Not Least
This easy waffle recipe is perfect if you’ve got some buttermilk on hand • The 10 richest men billionaires doubled their wealth during the pandemic, while 99 percent of the globe’s income fell • Aidy Bryant as Ted Cruz: “My beard is like Jan. 6: Shocking at first, but sadly it’s been normalized” • Did you know Proactiv, the skin-care company, changed its name to Alchemee?
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