with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! On this day in 1789, George Washington gave the first inaugural address, promising to be “peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.” CC: Politicians in 2021. Tell your friends to sign up here.

Amanda Chase, a prominent Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, rattled off her qualifications for the job to voters earlier this month. In remarks to the Virginia Family Foundation and posted to Facebook, she claimed to have the “most conservative voting record” in the state Senate, strong “tea party” credentials, and an “A-rating” from the National Rifle Association. “I’m a good shot. I don’t miss,” she added. She falsely insisted the 2020 election was stolen and praised the “patriots” who attended the Jan. 6 rally that served as the launchpad for the deadly Capitol riot.

Then Chase whom most news accounts note is a self-described “Trump in heels” waded into pandemic politics, describing her profound distaste for the coronavirus vaccines and rejection of public health entreaties to wear masks.

The Book of Revelation tells us that, in the end times, that which they call evil is good and that which is good is evil. We’re here. I just keep waiting for the mark of the Beast. It’s going to be the vaccine. It’s going to be the masks,” she said, mocking people who wear “face diapers.”

While her comments might be the most … colorful, Chase is hardly the only local Republican candidate currently running for state office in part on skepticism about and even scorn for the coronavirus vaccines.

And her “mark of the beast” comments exist on the far end a spectrum of pandemic politics many Republican officeholders have made resisting testing, masking, lockdowns and now vaccines into something of a successful personal brand.

That starts, in some ways, with Donald Trump, who for months in 2020 claimed higher case numbers reflected increased testing, not viral spread, delivered sunny forecasts the virus would miraculously disappear, and likened it to the flu.

Like the former president, to whom he is frequently compared, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) did not get his shot publicly. The news he had received his jab came about a week after DeSantis waded into the escalating political wars over so-called vaccine passports, declaring the Sunshine State would never tolerate them. 

Rolling Stone dubbed potential 2024 aspirant and GOP governor Kristi Noem the "Covid Queen of South Dakota.” (Her state has the 10th highest pandemic death rate in the country.)

In Minnesota, where many Republicans say they won’t get vaccinated, physician and gubernatorial hopeful Scott Jensen has said he would not recommend to his younger patients or pregnant women to get inoculated against the coronavirus. Jensen himself said he won’t get the shot because he has had the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there’s no evidence that coronavirus vaccines cause any problems with pregnancy and says people who have had the illness should still get vaccinated.

In New Jersey, former real estate developer Phil Rizzo, now a candidate for governor, condemned the vaccines as “experimental” and opposed requiring college-age students to get them on grounds they are at “0 risk from COVID.” (While younger people are at far lower risk than the elderly, the CDC says they can get infected, can spread the virus, can require hospitalization, and in rare cases can succumb to the disease.)

The debate — if that’s the right word — has far-reaching ramifications for both American health and American politics.

On the health sideabout 30-40 percent of Republicans have consistently said they won’t get vaccinated, complicating efforts to squelch the spread of the virus. That, in turn, has ramifications for efforts to get the country back to normal.

On the political side, making rejection of available science and health advice a litmus test risks driving the GOP rank-and-file to increasingly extreme views at odds even with prominent party leaders including Trump.

Informed skepticism of expert advice is one thing there’s an ongoing debate, for instance, about the CDC guidance for mask-wearing by people who have been vaccinated. And while the opposition to vaccine passports seems rooted in protecting vaccine refusers from consequences for their decision, there are also concerns about government or the private sector gathering too much personal data about Americans, and worries that enforcing such certificates will punish people who, because of inequities in American health care, have a harder time getting the shots.

But likening vaccines to “the mark of the beast” goes further. Too far, in fact, for Trump, who retains a tight hold on the GOP base.

In mid-March, the former president encouraged Americans to get vaccinated. I would recommend it to a lot of people that don't want to get it. And a lot of those people voted for me, frankly,” he told Fox News.

Trump got vaccinated in secret before leaving the White House in January. In a late February speech, he urged “everybody go get your shot” but has not methodically encouraged his supporters to get vaccinated.

The vaccine is a rare point of bipartisan consensus, at least at the top of American politics.

In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Biden this week made a straight-to-the-camera appeal: “Go get vaccinated, America. Go and get the vaccination.”

And few politicians have been as vocal about urging Americans to get the shot as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Past presidents as well as senators of both parties have shared photos or videos of themselves getting the vaccine.

In the Republican response to Biden, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina declared: “The coronavirus is on the run! Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the Trump administration, our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines.”

That makes the GOP split on the issue ironic. It’s like watching a surreal split screen in which Republicans are angry Trump isn’t getting credit … for something they don’t necessarily believe in.

What’s happening now

Al-Qaeda promised “war on all fronts” against America as Biden pulls out of Afghanistan. “America's ‘war on terror’ is about to enter a new phase as President Joe Biden prepares to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of 9/11, but now al Qaeda claims its war with America is far from over,” CNN’s Nic Robertson and Saleem Mehsud report. “In an exclusive interview with CNN conducted through intermediaries, two al Qaeda operatives tell CNN that ‘war against the US will be continuing on all other fronts unless they are expelled from the rest of the Islamic world.’ 

“In the past al Qaeda has rarely responded to questions, choosing instead to hide behind its own self-serving propaganda, dodging even the most distant scrutiny. It's unclear why the group has chosen to do so now. Terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, editor-in-chief of West Point's CTC Sentinel, who reviewed al Qaeda's answers, says it is possible ‘they feel buoyed by the Biden administration's decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan, but they may also be seeking to deflect attention from the many recent losses.’” 

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) proposed a rule change allowing remote voting in the Senate during a national crisis. Under the change, remote voting could take place for up to 30 days if the Senate majority and minority leaders jointly determine a national crisis exists, John Wagner reports. The Senate resolution would allow the chamber to do what the House has been doing for months now.

A stampede at a religious festival in Israel left at least 45 dead and more than 100 injured. “Police and military search-and-rescue units at the scene treated more than 150 injured at the base of Mount Meron, a peak in the Upper Galilee region in northwestern Israel. More than 100 were transported to hospitals in what emergency responders described as one of the most challenging civil catastrophes in the country’s history. Officials on the scene said they expected children to be among the dead,” Steve Hendrix, Miriam Berger, Shira Rubin and Judith Sudilovsky report

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • " ‘A lack of responsibility,’: How Vanessa Guillén’s killer fled a guard before taking his own life,” by Alex Horton: “A report will detail a chain of missteps that allowed the suspected killer of a fellow soldier to flee an unarmed guard before fatally shooting himself last year, in a case that rocked Fort Hood in Texas and sparked calls for systemic changes in how the Army cares for soldiers. ... [The report offers] a previously unreported glimpse into how Spc. Aaron Robinson slipped away on June 30, despite leaders putting him under observation more than two months after the disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillén.”
  • Several countries are planning for international visitors. The U.S. travel industry fears being left behind,” by Lori Aratani: “A coalition of travel industry organizations is renewing its push for the U.S. government to allow more international travelers. The groups, including Airlines for America, the U.S. Travel Association and unions representing pilots and flight attendants, say the United States should have a ‘risk-based data-driven’ plan to ensure the industry isn’t caught off guard when restrictions are lifted. The travel industry is hoping for a departure from the Trump administration’s handling of such policies.”

… and beyond

  • “‘Congratulations, you killed Osama bin Laden,’ ” by Politico’s Garrett M. Graff, who writes an oral history of how the West Wing and U.S. intelligence agencies built up Operation Neptune’s Spear over the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011. “He gave us two very specific orders at the end of that meeting. The first was ‘Leon, Michael, find out what the hell is going on inside that compound.’ The second orders he gave was ‘Don’t tell anyone. Don’t share this with anyone,’ ” Mike Morell, then the CIA’s deputy director, said about Obama the day intelligence informed him about bin Laden’s possible hideout. “This is CIA and this group in the White House, and that’s it, nobody else. No secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs, no secretary of State, no attorney general and director of the FBI — nobody else.”

The Biden agenda

The president will visit Philadelphia today to celebrate Amtrak’s 50th anniversary.
  • Ahead of the trip, Biden defended his plan for major government investments in infrastructure during an interview broadcast this morning, John Wagner reports. While talking to NBC’s “Today” show, Biden was “pressed on Republican criticisms that he wants to spend too much on infrastructure and education, among other priorities.”
  • “That’s the reason why it’s recovering, because we’re investing,” Biden said, citing the $1.9 coronavirus relief package. “If we don’t invest in this country, we’re going to fall behind even further.”
  • Biden was also asked if his latest plans — which together call for roughly another $4 trillion in spending — represent a return to “big government.” “I don’t have any inordinate faith in government, but there are certain things only the government can do,” he said, suggesting the private sector was not going to spend sufficiently on highways, ports, airports and bridges. “These are the things that only government can really do.”
  • Vice President Harris, meanwhile, will travel to Cincinnati for a roundtable discussion on Biden’s plans to boost spending on public transit.
Biden said all K-12 schools “probably” should be open by fall. He also said it’s a “tough call” on whether to require military vaccinations. 
  • “Based on science and the CDC, they should probably all be open,” Biden said of schools. He added there’s “not overwhelming evidence there’s much of a transmission” among children of that age.
  • When asked about requiring military personnel to be vaccinated, Biden was less definitive. “I don’t know. I’m going to leave that to the military,” Biden said at first, before adding: “I’m not saying I won’t. I think it’s going to be a tough call as to whether or not they should be required to have to get it in the military because you’re in such close proximity with other military personnel,” Biden said.
Biden’s Wednesday address drew a modest 27 million viewers. 
  • “Shown on all major networks and cable news channels starting at 9 p.m. Eastern time, the speech attracted a much larger television audience than Sunday’s Oscars telecast on ABC, which was watched by about 10 million people. But the audience was significantly smaller than the one for President Donald J. Trump’s first formal address to Congress in 2017, which drew 48 million viewers,” the Times reports.
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), a reliable Biden ally, is now bucking him on the border. 
  • On Wednesday, Kelly asked "the president for more federal resources at the border and calling the influx of migrants coming into his state a ‘crisis’ — language that Biden's White House is resisting,” Politico’s Burgess Everett reports. “In his characteristically low-key way, Kelly didn't back down Thursday from his knock on Biden for omitting a detailed plan for the border and his vow to ‘continue holding this administration accountable.’ ”
  • “Gearing up to try to take back a Senate seat in Kelly's once reliably red state, Republicans are already criticizing him for not being a more aggressive check on Biden. But the Arizonan says that’s exactly what he’s doing. ... Kelly said he has been in regular consultation with both Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, adding that he’s asked the White House to send more resources to tackle rising migration."
  • Fellow Arizona Democrat Kyrtsen Sinema is also not satisfied with Biden’s handling of the border. "Sen. Sinema has been clear that she — along with Sen. Kelly — wants to see more action from the administration to address the border crisis and support Arizona border communities. She's spoken directly with administration officials on this," Sinema's office told Fox News.
  • During this morning’s interview with NBC, Biden continued to resist labeling the border situation “a crisis” and argued his administration is doing a better job now coping with the migrant influx, particularly unaccompanied children, Wagner reports. 
  • Biden also warned parents not to send their children to the border. “Do not send your kids, period,” Biden said. “They’re in jeopardy making that thousand-mile trek.”
  • The number of unaccompanied children held in Border Patrol facilities dropped 84 percent since its peak last month. “As of Wednesday, there were 954 children in CBP facilities, down from a peak of 5,767 on March 28,” a White House official told CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez.

The future of the GOP

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) allegedly paid for sex with a minor, per a letter by wingman Joel Greenberg he gave to ex-Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone.
  • “A confession letter written by [former Florida official at the center of a probe into Gaetz] Greenberg in the final months of the Trump presidency claims that he and close associate Rep. Matt Gaetz paid for sex with multiple women—as well as a girl who was 17 at the time,” The Daily Beast’s Jose Pagliery and Roger Sollenberger report. “‘On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself,’ Greenberg wrote in reference to the 17-year-old.”
  • “From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18. I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman,” Greenberg said in the confession letter, which he wrote after he asked Stone to help him secure a pardon from then-President Trump.
  • “As part of the effort to obtain a pardon, Greenberg wrote multiple drafts of his confession letter. The Daily Beast obtained two typed versions and an earlier handwritten one.”
  • “In a text message to The Daily Beast, Stone said that Greenberg had tried to hire him to assist with a pardon, but he denied asking for or receiving payment or interceding on his behalf. He did, however, confirm he had Greenberg prepare ‘a document explaining his prosecution.’ ... Greenberg described his activities with Gaetz, repeatedly referring to the Republican congressman by his initials, ‘MG,’ or as ‘Matt.’”
  • Despite the Justice Department investigation, Gaetz is joining Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) on a national “America First” tour. The two Republicans will kick off their tour with a rally May 7 at a hotel in the largely-Republican retirement community in Villages, Fla., Colby Itkowitz reports.
Mike Pence, in his first speech since leaving office, spoke fondly of Trump. 
  • The former vice president, while addressing the Palmetto Family Council, “made no mention of the scathing criticism Mr. Trump leveled at him for his refusal to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. He did not mention the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, which included agitated Trump supporters chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence’ while the president did nothing for hours to stop them,” the Times’s Annie Karni reports.
  • “Instead, Mr. Pence made his political calculation clear: any possible future in the party for him still depends on staying closely aligned to Mr. Trump, despite the accompanying indignities. Mr. Pence said he had the ‘privilege of serving alongside President Donald Trump,’ and reminisced about the good times they had together on the 2016 campaign trail.”
  • “Pence has been quiet since leaving office, notably skipping Republican gatherings like the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. He underwent a successful surgery this month to have a pacemaker implanted and has signed a contract to write a book about his tenure as vice president. Mr. Pence has spoken frequently to Mr. Trump since the two left office, according to an aide. They connected most recently, the aide said, when Mr. Trump called him after his pacemaker procedure.”
  • Pence might have reemerged, but Trumpworld has moved on, writes Politico’s Meredith McGraw: “Trump aides say they are not keeping tabs on [Pence’s] political machinations like they are for other leading Republicans. Indeed, a handful of those contacted for this piece confided that they had no idea Pence was making his post-White House debut on Thursday. ‘The Vice President’s foray into 2024 politics will be met with a more reserved golf clap,’ said a former Trump senior administration official, who described Trump’s relationship with Pence as ‘cordial but not intimate.’”

Today in history

On this day 10 years ago, Obama made fun of Trump at the White House Correspondents Dinner. We all know what happened next: 

Ten years later, Obama and Ret. Adm. William H. McRaven discussed the meaning of the mission to kill bin Laden, Greg Jaffe and Greg Miller report. “These issues of war are treated as abstractions,” Obama said to McRaven about the Americans who worked the mission. “We forget that these are folks who have families and loved ones and that they are carrying a burden on behalf of hundreds of millions of Americans.”

Former president Barack Obama and Ret. Adm. William H. McRaven reflected on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. (Courtesy of the Obama Foundation)

Quote of the day

“I’ve seen movies where the CIA can do this,” former CIA Director Leon Panetta told officials as the U.S. tried to figure out if bin Laden was hiding in a compound. 

Hot on the left

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) “claims ‘it’s not fair’ accusers have gone public with sexual harassment accusations,” the New York Daily News’s Denis Slattery reports. “‘What has happened is, the complainants have continued to go to the press and make their complaint in the press,’ Cuomo said during an appearance in Buffalo. 'And I have not been able to respond. That’s not fair and it’s not right.’ Cuomo said he has yet to talk to independent investigators hired by Attorney General James’ office last month to probe the allegations made against him. But he can’t wait to share his side of the story. ‘I have not, but I can tell you this, I have tried to be respectful of the process,’ he said. ‘At the same time, it has been very difficult letting people make accusations and not responding. And people have only heard one side of the story.’” 

Hot on the right

The race for Texas’s 6th Congressional District, which will be decided in a Saturday special election, showcases the GOP fight over Trump, conspiracy theories and election lies, write CNN’s Clare Foran and Donie O’Sullivan: “A former professional wrestler is using the tagline ‘make America Texas again’ as he warns ‘commies in DC are ruining America.’ Two former Trump administration officials are highlighting ties to the former President and the widow of a former congressman has secured a coveted Trump endorsement in the race. Then there's Michael Wood, an outspoken anti-Trump Republican running with a message that puts him far outside the mainstream of his own party. Wood wants Republicans to reject Trump and stop perpetuating conspiracy theories. ... the fact that only one Republican candidate is denouncing Trump and conspiracy theories underscores how firm a hold the former President still has on his party. ‘I'm afraid for the future of the country,’ Wood said. ... ‘Somebody needed to stand up and say, this isn't what the Republican party should be, and we've got to go in a different direction.’” 

Job growth during Biden’s first 100 days in office, visualized

The United States added 916,000 jobs in March, the biggest jump in hiring in seven months. An uptick in hiring is a signal that businesses are confident enough about the future to add more employees. Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam report more on Biden’s economy and recovery. 

Today in Washington

Biden and first lady Jill Biden are flying to Pennsylvania today at 12:25 p.m. Biden will deliver remarks celebrating Amtrak at 2:30 p.m. At 3:40, the Bidens will travel to Delaware, where they will spend the weekend. 

Harris will travel to Ohio, where she will talk about the president’s jobs package at 12:20 p.m. 

In closing

Seth Meyers, speaking about Rudy Giuliani's FBI raid, said some in Trump's circle appear to be surprised to find out that nobody is above the law: