This week we start at the White House with President Biden’s big push on getting Americans vaccinated and then turn to Capitol Hill where the battle is just beginning again over the Biden agenda.
We also offer our reflections 20 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Let’s begin with President Biden’s COVID speech…
President Biden Moves From Carrots to Sticks on Vaccines
For all the back and forth around what’s caused President Biden's approval numbers to take a dip, I actually think most of the polling shows that it's been the rise in the Delta variant, and people feeling a lot less sure about our response plan going forward.
Gallup had a poll a few days ago that showed, for the first time, as either a candidate, President-Elect or President, more people disagreed than agreed that President Biden had communicated a clear plan of response. I think the speech was an enormously important moment for this Administration.
We're in a new phase of this pandemic. A reset with new ideas and plans was needed. The same speech urging people to do the right thing simply wasn't going to work, for our public health or for the President’s political health. Joe Biden can't lean over the podium and ask you nicely to go get the shot. There had to be some real strategies and plans on what to do differently. The big news was around the plan to have the Department of Labor issue rules saying businesses with 100 or more employees must either require the vaccine or workers must submit to weekly testing. The unsung hero of this plan may be an overall increase in testing, particularly rapid testing at-home, which could be a game changer. We have now seen places like the Los Angeles School District, the second largest in the country, mandating that anybody 12 and above be vaccinated.
So, Joe Biden tried the carrots for several months and we got a lot of people vaccinated. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough people. Now, he and his Administration had to try sticks to move people from vaccine hesitant to vaccinated. As I outlined on Twitter ahead of his speech, there a series of questions that Biden and the White House had to have good answers to. One speech won't give Americans the clarity necessary so the Administration will need to increase communication directly to the country, provide clear information and answers for what's next.
Bring on the stick, Gibbsy! I’m tired of President Nice Guy on COVID. It’ll help him politically; his voters are on board with vaccinations and they are getting more frustrated and angry about the single-helix crowd refusing to get the shot and putting us all at risk every day. There is a strategy here. Biden trying for a big reset. The White House knows it owns COVID 2.0. No more victory dances like in July. Time to own it and fix it and pick the right political fights over it. It’s offense and that’s what Biden needs. He cannot take the declining numbers anymore, or he’ll find the midterm narrative is a bad spiral. Since he cannot escape the political peril of the COVID resurgence, he has to turn the bow into the wave and gun the engines. Will it work? We’ll see. I think the politics can work for him if they pick the right fights. The challenge is other stuff can derail a move like this quickly. In Afghanistan, it’s looking like “Meet the New Taliban… same as the old Taliban.” Not good. The same heavy mob seems to be assuming the key jobs in the Government. That could mean more trouble coming, which will be very sticky for Biden. Plus, the budget Kabuki is really starting to heat up on the Hill.
Senator Joe Manchin, God bless him, is going for the budget, saving the $3.5 trillion Democratic budget bill is a no-go, and floating a bill half that size as more tenable. That’ll have the House progressives beating their dream-catchers into eco-friendly stabbing sticks and it’ll be a fight. Republicans, always up for Democratic fratricide and sensing Biden vulnerability, can only smile and watch.
So no wonder Joe Biden is trying to create a high lantern to fight for that's not typical DC stuff, but instead a real issue relevant to people's actual lives and he's right, that big issue of the moment is the COVID Delta surge.
I think right now this is a public health crisis, and if he doesn't both convince people that he has a plan and implement that plan, he has a greater political crisis. President Biden made a big, big bet on something he hasn’t wanted to do and that is land on the side of broad mandates. The reaction from a lor in the GOP is we will see you in court. Biden is banking on the idea that if this can solve the problem, people will worry less about how it happened.
The Long Capitol Hill Slog Ahead
I've long described this September as a month with a lot of moving parts. What I thought was going to be an extraordinarily complicated month might well be an understatement now. Like you said, Joe Manchin has purportedly laid down some ideas, namely that he isn’t for more than $1.5 trillion. Other moderates in the House, such as Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy of the Blue Dog Caucus, also laid down some demands about what she’d vote for or not vote for as the writing of the budget reconciliation legislation started in earnest yesterday.
Progressives, on the other side, have their demands (to them, they started at $6 trillion and see $3.5 trillion as a floor) and, in the middle really, is Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and, most importantly, Joe Biden, to bring these fighting family members back together around the dinner table. I think it's going to take every bit of their extraordinary political skill and finesse to thread this needle.
I've long maintained that there's a lot of public posturing in this and I think that still is true. But there's no doubt that what looms on the horizon are some genuinely hard decisions for Democrats about what policies and ideas to fund and at what levels. Thursday was the day that the House committee started that work and I think it's going be a really tough slog over the next few weeks. As I said on the podcast, my big admonition to Democrats right now is this has to be more than a debate about a number. If all we're doing is discussing whether it's $3.5 trillion or $1.5 trillion or $2.5 trillion or whatever trillion, we're doing a remarkable disservice to all of the aspects of this plan the country needs so desperately and is so very popular. As this sort of fight continues, it really is incumbent upon Democrats to have a better sense of the messaging on this, such that we don't, as I’ve said, find ourselves winning the battle, but losing the war. It’s what happened during the health care fight in 2009 and it took years for Democrats to see the political benefits of something that cost a lot of politicians their careers. I hope we don’t do that again.
I agree, I think there are a lot of hard Obamacare lessons here for the Democrats and I'm hoping they did not learn them. If the focus of the debate is trillions of maniacal liberal spending, Republicans are going to do well; that fight is right in their dojo. So far that’s been the debate: how much is too much? Moderate Democrats aghast, liberals furious, etc. That said, the Dems know that is trouble so they are trying to move the debate to popular middle class entitlements. Bernie Sanders is on a jihad for Medicare dental benefits. Others want more hearing aid benefits or vision care money. So that’ll be the fight going forward. What will this be about on Main Street in key Congressional districts and the vital Senate races in PA, NH and GA: the biggest left-wing spending boondoggle in American history, or the greatest pro-working family legislation since the New Deal. Finally, the tricky politics of taxation is becoming a bigger factor. How much can the Dem moderates accept. They are not from easy liberal Districts, they know too much and they’re back in Republican quicksand. AOC has a district that is near impossible to lose. The Democratic moderates do not.
Exactly. There are lots of moving parts on this. Health care was not easy, but Democrats had a huge majority. Today we can't lose anyone in the Senate and only have a four-seat cushion in the House. So, I think both sides see Joe Manchin and understand they can play that role too. So, there will be more than a few hostage negotiations that take place over the course of the next few weeks.
Remembering the September 11 Attacks 20 Years Later
As we mark 20 years since the attacks of September 11, I still remember where I was, as I’m sure readers who lived through that do too. I was in Washington at the time. I remember not having the TV on at work that morning and then hearing that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Over the course of really the next couple of hours and after turning on the TV as everyone else did, I watched it all tragically unfold, including not far away when a plane slammed into the Pentagon. I remember driving home later that afternoon, the usually raucous rush hour was very subdued. To get to and from home required me driving by the Pentagon. The smoke and the smell of the explosion was evident then and lingered for days.
It was a moment that undoubtably changed the way we've dealt with security and our safety for every moment for those last 20 years. It's hard to believe it's been two decades. But I know the memories of the many that were lost that day, still live with all of us. We will all be thinking of the families who lost loved ones on that terrible day in 2001 and the bravery and sacrifice of firefighters and police on that day, many of whom never came home.
That day is heavy in heart. I had flown out of NYC the day before and remember the view of Manhattan from the Shuttle, with the two towers so high. At the office the next day in northern VA we were glued to TVs and one of our wonderful staffers was in tears; the phones lines and cellular system was out and she could not find her husband… who was active-duty military stationed at the Pentagon. A few hours later he suddenly appeared in our office – having walked the few miles from the burning building to our office – to tell her she was alright. His uniform was very bloody from helping the wounded at the Pentagon. I’ll never forget that day.
Earlier this week, we talked a lot about California and the need to drive Democrats with a huge registration advantage out to the polls. You can see Gavin Newsom has some momentum, but, like any good politician on a ballot, he’s taking nothing for granted. Kamala Harris was there on Wednesday. A new Obama ad also started on Wednesday, and President Biden is heading West early next week. So the flood/cavalcade of Democratic standard bearers is going to make sure that the unthinkable idea of a recalled Governor, in what we believe is one of the bluest states, doesn't happen. So, continue to keep your eye on that. We'll make some predictions Tuesday in the next newsletter.
Only in a California recall where Democratic turnout is everything that counts for Newsom would you see TV ads featuring Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in a general election. (I also saw a Barack Obama spot today in Los Angeles), I do think the East Coast fly-ins have missed the boat a bit; California votes by mail-in and they’re about a week to ten days late to the peak of the voting decision season, but there is still time to push turnout and make sure the Democratic vote doesn’t fade out on Election Day. So, it’s all still a net plus for Newsom.
Finally, I want to send our well wishes to Senator Klobuchar on the announcement she made about being diagnosed and getting treatment for breast cancer. It's an insidious thing and we all know family and friends who have suffered from it. My mother, who is very happily still with us, went through it when I was in middle school, thankfully shielded from the seriousness of it then. I know it's an anxious time and we wish her well.
We’ll be back on Tuesday – the deadline for ballots in the California recall election – with our latest predictions on that race and much more.
Have a great weekend and please take a moment tomorrow to reflect on the events of 20 years ago and thank all those who have served our country on and since that day.
Murphy and Gibbs