Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — who starred in an Inauguration Day video playing up the democratic transfer of power — will also soon be jointly urging wary Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to sources familiar with the project. The sources requested anonymity to speak candidly.
Gathered to watch President Biden take the oath of office and film a message emphasizing the ceremony’s importance to the republic, “they also recorded a PSA [public service announcement] aimed at building confidence in the safety and efficacy of the covid vaccine,” one of the sources said. That message “will be released in the coming weeks,” the source added. Another source said the PSA was “a work in progress” and confirmed the rough timetable.
The idea of bringing the three former presidents together to film the handover-of-power video came from Stephanie Cutter, a veteran Democratic operative who served as an executive producer of Biden’s inauguration, the sources said.
Cutter “took a novel approach of trying to really make the program completely apolitical and patriotic and genuine in its appeal to all Americans. All the former presidents were happy to do it,” one of the sources said. “Plus, it helped them kill some time while they waited for the president and vice president!”
“Their view was ‘because [former president Donald] Trump’s not participating, how do we showcase the passage of power, and how do we visually represent the restoration of norms,” another source said, noting the unusual video was weeks in planning.
Biden’s inaugural committee felt “both for small-d democratic purposes but also aligned with Joe Biden’s values and message, we are going to restore confidence in government again, or at least build some of it back,” the source continued. That posed a challenge given “the absence of the outgoing president, who plays a pretty starring role in Inauguration Day — the greeting at the White House — the whole nine yards.”
The other flourish was the reimagining of the traditional wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, usually a more low-key affair, to compensate for the absence of the parade that usually stretches from the Capitol to the White House after the president’s swearing-in. The 2021 version, rather than just featuring the outgoing president and vice president, included Biden, Vice President Harris, Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. and Laura Bush, and Barack and Michelle Obama.
The bipartisan bonhomie is a stark departure from Trump’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic. His Health and Human Services Department crafted a never-aired $250 million campaign to “defeat despair” featuring celebrities like Dennis Quaid, which was criticized for being designed to boost Trump’s reelection chances.
Trump appointees “vetted celebrities for the public health campaign based on whether they had ever criticized the president, or supported former president [Obama], gay rights or same-sex marriage,” reported my colleague Yasmeen Abutaleb.
It also comes as Biden makes an all-out push to tackle to the pandemic, issuing executive orders to increase mask-wearing and implementing a national strategy to expand access to testing and vaccines.
The planned PSA aims to erode stubbornly robust American skepticism about coronavirus vaccines.
Forty percent of Americans say they definitely will get inoculated when they can, and another 23 percent say they probably will, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. But just one quarter of Republicans say they definitely will get vaccinated.
Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s most prominent infectious-disease expert, expressed concerns Thursday about public resistance to getting the vaccine.
“The concern I have, and something we're working on, is getting people who have vaccine hesitancy, who don't want to get vaccinated — because many people are skeptical about that. So we really need to do a lot of good outreach for that,” he said in a White House briefing.
Fauci told reporters “If we get 70 to 85 percent of the country vaccinated — let's say by the end of the summer, middle of the summer — I believe by the time we get to the fall, we will be approaching a degree of normality.”
Former presidents tend to come together under sad, even dire circumstances — the funeral of a prominent political figure, or a horrific natural disaster.
Ten days after the Dec. 26, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Bush enlisted Clinton and George H.W. Bush to lead what became a successful a global campaign for private donations. Five years later, it was Obama’s turn to task Clinton and the younger Bush with collecting aid in the aftermath of an earthquake that devastated much of Haiti.
“As the scope of the destruction became apparent, I spoke to each of these gentlemen, and they each asked the same simple question: ‘How can I help?’” Obama said with his two predecessors at his side in the Rose Garden. “In the days ahead, they’ll be asking everyone what they can do — individuals, corporations, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and institutions.”
What’s happening now
The Senate just confirmed Lloyd Austin, 93 to 2, to become the nation's first Black defense secretary
Congress waived a requirement for the defense secretary to be out of the military for seven years. Austin retired as a four-star Army general in 2016, served as head of U.S. Central Command and previously was commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, John Wagner and Karoun Demirjian report. GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) were the two dissenters. He has vowed to eliminate extremism in the ranks.
Impeachment is inching ahead. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will deliver the article of impeachment against Trump on Monday. “It will be a full trial, it will be a fair trial," Schumer said during remarks on the Senate floor, Wagner reports.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argues a trial shouldn't begin until mid-February to give Trump time to mount a defense. Trump has apparently secured an attorney for the trial: Butch Bowers, a Columbia, S.C., lawyer known for his prominent role in litigating political and election matters for North and South Carolina Republicans.
Walmart, Starbucks and Microsoft are teaming up to get more coronavirus vaccines into American arms. Walmart is prepping next week to make “inoculations available through its stores in seven states, plus Chicago and Puerto Rico. Walmart expects to deliver 10 million to 13 million doses a month,” Taylor Telford reports. And Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee (D) plans to partner with home-grown brands Microsoft and Starbucks to efficiently distribute the vaccines there.
The Justice Department inspector general is examining the abrupt departure earlier this month of U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak, who departed after Trump complained that Georgia officials weren’t doing enough to find election fraud, Matt Zapotosky reports. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigation appears to be in its early stages.
At least hundreds of National Guard troops were forced to sleep in parking garages after being booted Thursday from the U.S. Capitol complex following their job to secure Biden's inauguration in the wake of the Jan. 6 riots. “I’ve never in my entire career felt like I’ve been booted onto the curb and told, ‘Figure it out on your own,’ ” said one of the soldiers, who said he served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some troops are headed home, while others have apparently been returned to the Capitol complex, after an uproar on social media.
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- "Trump steps out of the White House and into a company in crisis," By David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell: “Donald Trump returns to his company this week as it faces a deepening crisis, with key properties bleeding revenue and its bankers, lawyers and customers fleeing the company.”
- “Kremlin warns Russians against pro-Navalny protests, detains opposition activists,” by Robyn Dixon: “The disconnect between the Kremlin and Russian social media influencers underscored Putin’s problems in reaching beyond his aging, conservative base to connect with the young, urban Russians who want to be part of the modern world.”
- “QAnon believers seek to adapt their extremist ideology for a new era: ‘Things have just started,'” by Drew Harwell: “Biden’s rise to the White House marked the biggest inflection point yet for QAnon’s core believers, who this week voiced doubts and frustrations that the movement’s years-old promises of mass executions and an extended Trump presidency had been bogus all along.”
… and beyond
- “One year in, Howard County Truth & Reconciliation group illuminates history of lynchings,” by the Baltimore Sun’s Ana Faguy: “Jareaux is one of the four founders of the Howard County Truth & Reconciliation group, which has spent the past year piecing together the history of lynching in Howard County. It is a layered one in which two African American men were killed and one was reported to be killed, but was not, in the late 19th century.”
- “Can Mitch McConnell stand against Donald Trump and still control the Kentucky GOP?” by the Lexington Herald Leader’s Daniel Desrochers: “Tensions are high. The Nelson County Republican Party voted to censure McConnell over his statements on the Senate floor Tuesday, passing a resolution that called on McConnell to retract his comments. Don Thrasher, the Nelson County Republican Party Chairman, said he felt that McConnell impugned the integrity of Trump on the Senate floor.
- "New Oregon legislation would put a moratorium on building mega-dairies. What happens next?” by The Counter’s H. Claire Brown: “Advocates worry that Biden’s selection of former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to lead the Department of Agriculture may signal a reticence to take bold action to regulate factory farms because the agency under Obama ultimately did little to curb emissions or blunt the power of the biggest meatpacking companies.”
The first 100 days
Biden will today sign a new slate of executive actions that will, among other things:
- Steer additional federal aid to expand food stamps and speed stimulus checks, per Jeff Stein and Laura Reiley. The president is asking the Agriculture Department to allow states to increase the food stamp program; and increase by 15 percent the school nutrition program for needy students. The bottom line: a needy family with three children could get an additional $100 in monthly benefits.
- Direct the federal government to issue stronger safety guidance for workplaces operating amid the pandemic, per Eli Rosenberg.
- Clear a path for a $15 an hour minimum wage for federal employees and contract workers, per the AP.
- “Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better,” Biden said yesterday as he signed 10 executive orders and other documents to streamline the response to the pandemic. He added the U.S. death toll, currently at 409,000, would probably top 500,000 by the end of next month. “Let me be equally clear: We will get through this,” he said, per Ashley Parker and Matt Viser.
Each day next week will have a “theme” as Biden moves on actions to undo Trump’s legacy, CNN reports.
- Monday is “Buy American” day, and Biden will sign an order beefing up requirements for government purchases of U.S. goods and services.
- Tuesday is “Equity” day, which includes a push to eliminate private prisons. This week, Biden removed Trump’s “1776 Report,” a U.S. history review lambasted by historians as racist and false published on Monday, from the Trump[ White House website. Biden also disbanded the Trump commission that wrote it, Valerie Strauss reports.
- Wednesday is “Climate” day, and Biden will sign an executive order reestablishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
- Thursday is “Health Care” day. Biden will rescind policies blocking federal funding for nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion services.
- Friday, finally, is “Immigration” day. Biden will sign executive orders focused on border processing and refugee policies, as well as establish a family reunification task force.
The Trump administration left Black Americans behind. They want Biden to narrow the gaps.
- Black Americans want Biden, the candidate they bolstered to the presidency, to narrow systemic racial inequalities that have left them trailing White Americans on every economic measure, Tracy Jan reports. These gaps are worsening amid the coronavirus recession, with Black earnings for low-income households predicted to fall by at least 35 percent compared with 2018, reversing gains since the last economic recovery.
Trump’s former economic adviser Kevin Hassett supports Biden’s $1.9 trillion rescue package.
- Hassett said he fears that, without more aid, the pandemic will cause the economy to collapse like it did the first quarter of last year, when the GDP shrank by 5 percent, per CNN.
As Biden readies his immigration plan, Republicans are already fundraising off their opposition to it:
Tracking Biden's nominations
- The Senate Finance Committee met this morning to consider Janet Yellen’s nomination for treasury secretary. Yellen could be confirmed by the full Senate later today, per Reuters.
- Republican and Democratic lawmakers struck a handshake agreement last night to expedite Antony Blinken’s nomination for secretary of state, Demirjian reports. That all but sets up Blinken's confirmation, though any one senator can block an expedited confirmation.
- Biden’s planned selection of Michael Barr to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is already triggering opposition from progressive activists and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is set to lead the Senate Banking Committee. Brown has been advocating for law professor Mehrsa Baradaran, an expert on the racial wealth gap, to lead that office, Politico reports.
- Rebecca Kelly Slaughter was named acting chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, while Jessica Rosenworcel was named acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. Both may face early obstacles as vacancies at the FTC and FCC may leave them deadlocked, but will likely set back some of their most ambitious plans until Biden nominates additional Democrats. Biden must decide whether to name Rosenworcel and Slaughter as permanent chairs, Tony Romm reports.
- Kelu Chao, a journalist who has worked at Voice of America for nearly 40 years, was named interim leader for the Agency for Global Media. Earlier this week, Biden ousted Michael Pack, the Trump ally who led the federal media agency, as well as two other VOA leaders who were only on the job for a few weeks, Paul Farhi reports.
Quote of the day
“I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president, so it was really something that you didn’t feel that you can actually say something and there wouldn’t be any repercussions about it. The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence — what the science is and know that’s it, let the science speak, it is somewhat of a liberating feeling," Fauci said at his first press conference of the Biden administration.
Today in history
Hot on the left
A bill by Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) would bar QAnon followers from receiving security clearances. Following a report that at least 22 current or former members of the military or law enforcement were found to have been at or near the Capitol riots, Murphy, a former Pentagon official, drew up the bill. “If any Americans participated in the Capitol attack, or if they subscribe to these dangerous anti-government views of QAnon, then they have no business being entrusted with our nation's secrets,” she said. (The Daily Beast)
Hot on the right
Republicans say the chances Trump will be convicted in his next impeachment trial are plummeting. A maximum of five or six GOP senators may vote for impeachment, the Hill reports. “I thought if he pardoned people who had been part of this invasion of the Capitol, that would have pushed the number higher because that would have said, ‘These are my guys,’” said one Republican senator. Another said Trump’s supporters “would be very upset” if the party moved to convict him, a base the GOP needs ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Biden's environmental actions, visualized
Next week in Washington
Later today, the vice president plans to hold a virtual meeting with National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and small-business owners.
Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-R.I.), Biden’s nominee to lead the Commerce Department, will testify before the Senate on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, the nominee for energy secretary; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s nominee for U.N. ambassador, and Denis McDonough, the nominee for the Department of Veterans Affairs, will testify before the Senate on Wednesday morning.
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Biden’s nominee for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will appear before the senators on Thursday morning.
Stephen Colbert feels hopeful things are going to get better because the president stood on the balcony of the White House and wore a mask. “Baby steps,” he said:
And Champ and Major Biden have not yet moved to the White House, CNN reports. But worry not – they'll be romping around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue soon enough: