with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Today, we look at how the Biden administration addresses concerns about “vaccine passports." But don’t miss the latest on President Biden’s first wave of judicial nominations. Send me links to politics or policy stories you think deserve more attention! And tell your friends to sign up here.

The White House is moving to soothe privacy and equity concerns about the development and deployment of so-called “vaccine passports” that would enable the bearer to prove they’ve been inoculated against the coronavirus.

And the administration is trying to strike a balance about the government’s role by declaring the private sector will lead the effort to design the certificates while also promising federal oversight to ensure citizens are treated fairly. 

“We recognize this is a tricky and important subject, but the core here is that Americans, like people around the world, who are vaccinated will want to be able to demonstrate that vaccination in various forms,” said Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser on the pandemic response.

The debate in the United States over whether and how to develop the “passports” and to what extent states or businesses could require them reflects the global disarray on the issue. The European Union is pushing ahead with its version (the “Digital Green Certificate”), Israel is struggling to implement its “Green Passport,” and Japan and China are deploying their own certificates.

It also follows a year in which advice from experts on testing, mask-wearing, social distancing, economic lockdowns and vaccines turned into tests of partisan loyalties, with Republicans largely echoing Donald Trump’s public doubts about whether such steps were needed. (Resistance to the vaccine today runs high among his supporters, and he only recently disclosed he’d had the shot and encouraged them to follow suit.)

Vaccine passports are the logical next political battleground.

On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a prominent supporter of the former president, decreed the Sunshine State’s borders closed to the idea

“We are not supporting doing any vaccine passports in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society.”

Proponents say the certificates would provide peace of mind for employees at businesses like restaurants or bars and reassure everyone from air travelers to concert goers.

An administration official, who requested anonymity to detail behind-the-scenes deliberations, said any passport roll-out was “weeks away.”

Concerns about the passports seem to run along two broad paths: Fears government will collect too much data on Americans, use it for purposes other than verifying vaccine status, and fail to safeguard the information and worries underprivileged Americans who can’t get access to the vaccine will now effectively be punished for it.

Americans who don’t want to get vaccinated at all are obviously unlikely to embrace the certificates, either.

My colleague Paige Winfield Cunningham reports in The Health 202: 

To make passports widely usable, officials would need to create standards for the type of information they must maintain, convince issuers and holders to use the same app or set of apps and figure out how to provide a paper-based system for those who don’t have cellphones. Those are a lot of logistical challenges that would need to be undertaken in a short period of time.

The Biden administration has moved to address some worries while trying to avoid steps that might inflame vaccine skepticism.

“There will be no centralized, universal federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki promised Monday at her daily briefing.

“Unlike other parts of the world, the government here is not viewing its role as the place to create a passport, nor a place to hold the data of citizens,” Slavitt said. “We view this as something that the private sector is doing and will do.”

“The passports are expected to be free and available through applications for smartphones, which could display a scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass. Americans without smartphone access should be able to print out the passports, developers have said.”

As of 2019, roughly 1 in 5 Americans did not have a smartphone.

“We'll leverage our resources to ensure that all vaccination credential systems meet key standards, whether that's universal accessibility, affordability, availability both digitally and on paper,” Psaki said.

“It’s also important that we recognize that there are still many, many millions and millions of Americans that have not yet been vaccinated,” said Slavitt. “So that’s a fundamental equity issue.”

Slavitt also acknowledged the possibility that Americans hesitant to get vaccinated might become more so.

“We do know that there is a segment of the population that is concerned that the government will play too heavy-handed of a role in monitoring their vaccinations and that mandates will be coming from the federal government and important in point of fact, it would discourage people to feel like that was the role we're playing,” he said.

What’s happening now

The murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin continued this morning with recollections from Donald Williams, a key witness. Williams can be heard on video of George Floyd’s death encouraging the officer to get off Floyd, Holly Bailey, Timothy Bella, Kim Bellware and Lateshia Beachum report. Williams testified that he could see Floyd “going through tremendous pain.” Williams said he felt like Floyd’s life was very much in danger before he died and that he was scared for his own safety. 

Quote of the day

“The more that his knee was on his neck … the more you see Floyd fade away, slowly fade away," said Williams, who is considered a relevant witness because of the vantage point he had standing in proximity to Floyd and Chauvin. 

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

… and beyond

  • Two weeks after shooting spree, Georgia Senate backs bill to loosen gun restrictions,” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Maya Prabhu: “House Bill 218 passed 34-18 on a party-line vote, with Republicans in support of the measure. The fact that the vote came shortly after the spa shootings was something Democrats highlighted in opposing the bill. ‘We don’t have to live like this,’ said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat.”
  • Group backed by Murdoch daughter-in-law targets primary elections as a 'threat to democracy,’ ” by Yahoo News’s Jon Ward: “Only about 10 percent of American voters choose about eight out of 10 members of Congress, says a new report out Tuesday from Unite America, a group that is pushing states to adopt nonpartisan primaries and ranked-choice voting. This small group — this 10 percent who make up primary voters in both parties — encourages extremism and gridlock rather than bipartisan cooperation, the report argues. … Unite America is more than an organization that puts out reports, however. … Kathryn Murdoch, a philanthropist with deep financial resources as the daughter-in-law of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, donated over $6 million to the group in 2020 alone.”
  • The antiscience movement is escalating, going global and killing thousands,” by Scientific American’s Peter Hotez: “Facilitating the spread of COVID-19 is an expanded and globalizing antiscience movement that began modestly under a health freedom banner adopted by the Republican Tea Party in Texas. Thousands of deaths have so far resulted from antiscience, and this may only be the beginning as we are now seeing the impact on vaccine refusal across the U.S., Europe and the low- and middle-income countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

The first 100 days

Biden will today sign bipartisan legislation extending the Paycheck Protection Program.
  • “The bill that Biden plans to sign in the Oval Office will extend the program through June 30. It is currently set to expire on March 31,” John Wagner reports.
  • An NPR-Marist poll found that Americans have given Biden better marks on his handling of the coronavirus than his handling of immigration. Sixty percent approve of his job on the coronavirus, while 34 percent approve of his job on immigration. The poll comes as a growing number of Americans are getting vaccinated and thousands of migrants are arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, Wagner notes.
  • Satisfaction with the U.S. vaccine rollout surged to 68 percent, according to a new Gallup poll, doubling since January. “With more than a million Americans receiving COVID-19 vaccines every day, the public's overall willingness to be inoculated against the disease has edged up three points. This continues the upward trajectory to a new high of 74% since hitting a low of 50% in September.”  
Congressional Democrats and the administration are considering lowering the Medicare eligibility age. 
  • “Democrats are still negotiating over which healthcare policy elements could be in the second of two spending programs the administration plans to unveil soon, according to congressional aides and industry groups,” the WSJ’s Stephanie Armour and Kristina Peterson report. “The package is likely to contain measures to reduce drug prices and expand health coverage, lawmakers said. Proposals to expand Medicare eligibility from age 65 to 60 and to enable the federal government to negotiate drug prices in the health program for seniors… are also likely to be included.”
  • “The healthcare proposals would face opposition from many Republicans and hospital groups, who say they could reduce the labor force because more people may retire early.” 
Biden released his first slate of judicial nominees. 
  • With the batch of 11 nominees, the administration aims to boost diversity in federal courts nationwide, Ann Marimow and Matt Viser report.
  • The list includes three Black women for appeals court vacancies: U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, often mentioned as someone who could become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, was nominated to replace Attorney General Merrick Garland in the influential D.C. Appeals Court. Meanwhile, Tiffany P. Cunningham, a patent attorney in Chicago, was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, a D.C.-based lawyer, was named to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
  • The list also includes candidates that, if confirmed, would become the first Muslim American to serve on a District Court, the first Asian American woman to serve on the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit, and the first woman of color to serve as a federal judge in Maryland.
  • While Republicans will likely oppose some of the nominees, they all face easy confirmations if the Democratic caucus stays united. Our colleagues reported last month that the administration is following Trump’s practice to speed up the process by forgoing the American Bar Association review of candidates in advance of formal nominations. The Senate Judiciary Committee could hold hearings on the nominations by late April.
Biden won’t throw the first pitch at the Nationals stadium this Opening Day. 
  • The D.C. baseball team invited Biden to Opening Day moments after the presidential race was called in 2020. Today, the team said that Biden would not be coming to the stadium on Thursday but that he was welcome to throw out a first pitch sometime in the future, John Wagner and Chelsea Janes report.
  • “Dating back to President William Howard Taft in 1910, every U.S. president had thrown out a first pitch at some point in their presidency during years that Washington had a professional baseball team. That tradition ended with Trump,” our colleagues note. 

The future of the GOP

Republicans, in a private call, acknowledged that Democrats’ expansive electoral reform bill is popular across the political spectrum. 
  • “In private, they concede their own polling shows that no message they can devise effectively counters the argument that billionaires should be prevented from buying elections,” writes the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. “A recording obtained by The New Yorker of a private conference call on January 8th, between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups — including one run by the Koch brothers’ network — reveals the participants’ worry that the proposed election reforms garner wide support not just from liberals but from conservative voters, too.”
  • “The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn’t worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.”
Florida Republicans are considering a new election bill that would ban giving voters water within 150 feet of polling places. 
  • “State law currently prohibits offering voters assistance within 100 feet of polling locations,” NBC News reports. The new bill “proposes expanding that zone to 150 feet and includes a prohibition on giving ‘any item’ to voters or ‘interacting or attempting to interact’ with voters within that zone.”
  • The Florida bill would also “require voters to request mail ballots more frequently, add more identification requirements for mail voting, and limit how drop boxes are used.”
  • The [Florida] proposal is similar to a measure in Georgia’s sweeping new election law that bans giving water, food or gifts to voters waiting in line, among many other restrictions." The Georgia measure mainly targets third-party activities, since poll workers can still set up self-serve coolers for voters.
Corporations are very vocal about racial justice. Voting rights, not so much. 
  • “Last week, as Georgia Republicans rushed to pass a sweeping law restricting voter access, Atlanta’s biggest corporations, including Delta, Coca-Cola and Home Depot, declined to weigh in, offering only broad support for voting rights. The muted response — coming from companies that last year promised to support social justice — infuriated activists, who are now calling for boycotts,” the New York Times’s David Gelles reports.
  • “Companies have effectively squashed bills at the state level before. In 2016, when lawmakers were advancing the bathroom bills, major corporations said they would move jobs out of states that adopted such measures,” Gelles notes. “This time around, however, the entertainment industry has taken a more guarded approach. … The fight in Georgia is likely a preview of things to come. Lawmakers in dozens of states have proposed similar voting bills, and activists are planning to ramp up the pressure on corporate America as the battle over voting rights goes national.”
The Freedom Caucus is fretting over how far to push its rebellion.
  • “A notable split has emerged inside the House Freedom Caucus in recent weeks over its members' use of delaying tactics on the floor to protest Democratic policies. That effort has grabbed attention and ruffled leadership, two hallmarks of the Freedom Caucus, but it's also snarled legislative proceedings enough to breed frustration among some members of the far-right crew,” Politico’s Olivia Beavers and Melanie Zanona report.
  • “Some in the caucus criticize the legislative slowdown, led by Freedom Caucus Chair Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and several others, as a failure to act strategically. Conservatives should challenge a select few bills rather than a wide swath, these Republicans argue, to avoid diluting the potency of moments when they choose to tie the House in procedural knots … But other Freedom Caucus members feel strongly that wreaking havoc on the floor is part of their brand and they need to deploy every procedural weapon at their disposal.”

Today in history

President Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt on this day in 1981. “In the 70th day of his presidency, Reagan underwent three hours of surgery at George Washington University Hospital to remove the bullet that entered under his left armpit, struck his seventh rib and burrowed three iches into his left lung," reported The Post's David S. Broder. "On his way into surgery, the president gamely reassured friends: 'Don't worry about me. I'll make it.'” 

Hot on the left

An accused Capitol rioter was arrested in a T-shirt reading “I was there” with Trump’s photo and the date of the insurrection. “When police showed up at Garret Miller’s Dallas home earlier this year to arrest him on charges that he had participated in the Capitol riot, his wardrobe spoke for itself,” Katie Shepherd reports. “New details of his Jan. 20 arrest were revealed this week in court documents as prosecutors urged a judge not to release him before his trial, noting that he allegedly admitted to bringing a gun into the Capitol during the deadly insurrection. Police also found an array of weapons and gear in Miller’s house, prosecutors said, including a grappling hook, ropes, body armor, night vision goggles, a crossbow and arrows, and multiple firearms with ammunition. … He also sent a selfie [during the attack] that showed him standing inside the Capitol Rotunda, according to court records, with the caption: ‘Just wanted to incriminate myself a little lol.’” 

Hot on the right

Trump came after Tony Fauci and Deborah Birx after they both criticized his management of the pandemic response. Birx, who ran Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, told CNN a few days ago that she was “marginalized every day,” Diamond reports. “The majority of the people in the White House did not take this seriously,” she said. Fauci, meanwhile, lamented the “lost opportunity” when Trump chose to get vaccinated in private. In a lengthy, rambling statement, Trump called both doctors “two self-promoters trying to reinvent history to cover for their bad instincts and faulty recommendations, which I fortunately almost always overturned.” 

Vaccination rates per county, visualized

The first nationwide look at vaccination across counties reveals vast differences in the rate that people are receiving protection from the coronavirus, with notably lower rates in predominantly Black areas and counties that voted most heavily for President Donald Trump in 2020. Search where your county stands in this interactive map.

Today in Washington

Biden will sign the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program today at 2 p.m. Vice President Harris and Jovita Carranza, the Small Business Administration’s administrator, will attend. 

In closing

Jimmy Kimmel reviewed Trump's viral wedding toast: