“Don’t panic, number one,” he advised from the White House’s Roosevelt Room, as he described what he and his aides have dubbed as a “whole-of-government” response to a pipeline shutdown that has left too many gas tanks on “E.”
“I know seeing lines at the pumps, or gas stations with no gas, can be extremely stressful, but this is a temporary situation. Do not get more gas than you need in the next few days,” Biden said.
“Gasoline supply is coming back online, and panic buying will only slow the process.”
Striking a practical tone in polarized D.C. may seem like a fool’s errand — and this White House isn’t shy about blaming its predecessors on issues like the pandemic, the border and the economy — but it’s a deliberate part of the plan this week.
With millions of people across more than a dozen states facing shortages, long lines and even empty pumps at gas stations, the White House has taken to local media to assure Americans it’s on their side, working for them. So to speak.
Whether the gas shortage response works will be a critical test for the young Biden presidency’s communications infrastructure, which has put a premium on reaching audiences through local and regional news media. There are significant political implications to being able to get the White House signal through Beltway media static and directly to American homes.
Earlier this week, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said Biden aides had done more than 400 local interviews reaching 40 states since January. The number has now climbed north of 500, a White House official said.
“At the end of the day, local media is still one of the most trusted sources of information for people all across the country,” Bedingfield explained.
The White House has put agency heads and other experts front and center during the pipeline mess, not only available to the press corps in the James S. Brady Briefing Room but also to companies with hundreds of stations throughout afflicted areas.
On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg did the same with Spectrum, Sinclair, and Hearst.
For the White House — any White House — lines of frustrated Americans waiting to buy gas can be a political nightmare.
It’s an easily understood problem (you might not be able to get to work, or get home, or to the doctor, or to see your parents, etc.) that will get local and regional news coverage. The causes can sound insulting (that panic-buying makes everything worse can be true, but consumers don’t want to hear it) and the remedies can sound insufficient (don’t panic, gas is back this weekend).
There are other pitfalls. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “we don’t see a supply issue” on Monday, a day before lines of panicked drivers besieged gas stations throughout the Southeast and several governors declared states of emergency.
“In Congress, Republicans have seized on Biden’s moves to transition away from fossil fuels, suggesting it imperils the country’s energy security. On Fox News, conservative hosts have blamed the president for rising prices at the pump and long lines of cars snaking around gas stations, with one dubbing it “Biden’s gas crisis.” And in midterm battleground states where gas is running low, Republican leaders have panned Biden’s response.”
For years, White House communications shops have had specialists focused on “regional” press outlets, those that reach politically valuable regions, states, or communities. Cabinet members have always fanned out to critical areas or news media markets — especially before an election.
But a phenomenon like gas lines, like the pandemic before it, also highlights how presidential communications operations have tended to focus on national debates, against national foes, dealing with national crises and priorities. Think of former president Donald Trump attacking the national news media, or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), or Biden going toe to toe with Beltway Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). You can probably name a few White House press secretaries, but who’s the last White House head of regional press you can cite?
Finding a balance between mainstream national media and local and regional sources is something successful presidential campaigns tend to do better than White Houses.
The day I went to work in 2012 for Yahoo News, I got an email from a top communicator on the Obama campaign who was aware the platform reached tens of millions of Americans daily. Weeks later I had to walk a senior White House communicator through how to find news on news.Yahoo.com. It’s an anecdote, I know, but telling.
The pandemic challenged Trump’s team because Americans lived it as a global crisis with obvious local repercussions — local infection increases, local testing shortfalls, local hospitals overflowing, local businesses closed, local deaths rising, and so on.
In an era of nationalized House races, the old saw that “all politics is local” falls short of the mark. Just maybe not during a national crisis told through local eyes.
What’s happening now
House Republicans chose Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) this morning to fill the leadership post recently occupied by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Marianna Sotomayor reports. “She received 134 votes while Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) received 46, according to the aides. ... Stefanik pitched herself as a unifying candidate who will focus on pushing the House Republican message and focus on attacking the Biden administration’s policies, while standing by Trump’s election claims. ... Stefanik faced some opposition to her candidacy from conservatives who argue her record it too moderate. But even Roy played down his chances of defeating her heading into the vote.”
After the vote, Stefanik thanked Trump several times and described him as the head of the Republican Party. “He is a critical part of our Republican team,” Stefanik said of the former president, per Felicia Sonmez. “I believe that voters determine the leader of the Republican Party, and President Trump is the leader that they look to,” Stefanik said. “I support President Trump. Voters support President Trump. He is an important voice in our Republican Party, and I look forward to working with him.”
Stefanik also thanked her colleagues:
House Democrats and Republicans reached a deal on the commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. “Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) will introduce legislation to create a 10-person commission, five members to be chosen by Democratic leaders and five by Republican leaders. The commissioners cannot be current government employees and 'must have significant expertise in the areas of law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence, and cybersecurity,' a statement said," Colby Itkowitz reports. “The commission will have subpoena power, but to use it will require agreement between the chair and vice chair or a vote by a majority of the members. The commission would have a few months to do its work. The legislation requires the panel to turn in a final report on its findings and recommendations by the end of the year.”
Israeli forces hit Hamas tunnels in Gaza as an all-out war looms. “Israel dramatically escalated its assault on the Gaza Strip early Friday with a combined air and artillery barrage aimed at destroying Hamas’s tunnel system, marking the addition of ground forces for the first time in the five-day battle and tipping the conflict closer to all-out war. The conflict, which shows no sign of abating, has so far resulted in the deaths of 119 people in Gaza and nine in Israel, with hundreds more injured,” Steve Hendrix, Michael Miller and Shira Rubin report. “Violence and unrest continued to spread across Israel and the Palestinian territories overnight. In the West Bank — where tensions among residents, Israeli soldiers, Palestinian Authority security forces and Jewish settlers already made for a volatile brew — clashes erupted in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and other West Bank cities. Settlers set fire to wide swaths of Palestinian farmland, according to the Israeli human rights group B’tsalem.”
As the Arab world rallies around Palestinians and bloodshed mounts, the Trump-era peace deals fade from view. “The anger, analysts said, has badly undermined an assumption at the center of the accords: that the Arab world no longer cared about Palestinian suffering and was content to let its governments embrace Israel based on other mutual interests,” Kareem Fahim and Sarah Dadouch write.
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Is it now reasonable to discuss the end of the pandemic? Yes, but with caveats,” by Joel Achenbach: “This remains a long-duration event, and there’s not likely to be an easily defined end to the pandemic. Experts think the crisis will ratchet down incrementally, with people able to resume normal activities in steps — something already happening as more people venture into restaurants or attend social gatherings. ... [But] There are multiple caveats that cloud this sunny outlook. First: The vaccination goal is not a given. ... Second: Mutations in the virus could erode the efficacy of vaccines. ... Third: The U.S. population is not fully safe from the coronavirus (or any other virus) until the whole planet is safe. ... Fourth: Many experts believe the coronavirus will behave like influenza and other seasonal respiratory viruses, and flare anew come winter.”
… and beyond
- “Activists and ex-spy said to have plotted to discredit Trump ‘enemies’ in government,” by the New York Times’s Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti: “The campaign included a planned sting operation against Mr. Trump’s national security adviser at the time, H.R. McMaster, and secret surveillance operations against F.B.I. employees, aimed at exposing anti-Trump sentiment in the bureau’s ranks. The operations against the F.B.I., run by the conservative group Project Veritas, were conducted from a large home in the Georgetown section of Washington that rented for $10,000 per month. Female undercover operatives arranged dates with the F.B.I. employees with the aim of secretly recording them making disparaging comments about Mr. Trump. The campaign shows the obsession that some of Mr. Trump’s allies had about a shadowy ‘deep state’ trying to blunt his agenda.”
- “Forget backstage passes or V.I.P bracelets. Vaccination cards are the new ticket,” by the Times’s Jennifer Steinhauer: “Now, private employers, restaurants and entertainment venues are looking for ways to make those who are vaccinated feel like V.I.P.s, both to protect workers and guests, and to possibly entice those not yet on board. Come summer, the nation may become increasingly bifurcated between those who are permitted to watch sports, take classes, get their hair cut and eat barbecue with others, and those who are left behind the spike protein curtain.”
- “Appuccino, please: How TikTok is changing Starbucks,” by BuzzFeed News’s Katie Notopoulos: “When you order through the app, adding in customizations is easy, almost encouraged. ... The biggest contributor to the rise of the Appuccino is TikTok, where customized drink suggestions go viral and there are Starbucks influencers (and even employees) who show off the drinks they make.”
The Biden agenda
Biden will meet with six beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program today.
- “In an advisory advertising the meeting with the six ‘dreamers,’ the White House said it will underscore Biden’s desire for Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, which would grant citizenship to an estimated 2.7 million undocumented immigrants who arrived as children or have temporary permission to stay, according to the Migration Policy Institute,” Wagner reports. “The legislation was passed by the Democratic-led House in March but has stalled in the evenly divided Senate.”
Biden held “good faith” infrastructure talks with Senate Republicans, but they’re still far apart on the hardest questions.
- “Even as both sides stressed their commitment to a bipartisan deal [in an Oval Office meeting yesterday], they acknowledged afterward that they’re still haggling over what it should include — and haven’t even touched the fierce debate over how to pay for it,” Seung Min Kim and Tony Romm report. “The latest round of infrastructure talks came as the White House inched closer to its self-imposed Memorial Day deadline, a date by which it says it expects progress on advancing Biden’s jobs and infrastructure plan.”
- “Asked whether he might accept a smaller price tag, the president told reporters, ‘I’m prepared to compromise.’ Republicans similarly praised the gathering, and the two sides plan to exchange additional policy proposals entering next week. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who is leading the GOP’s negotiations on infrastructure, described it as ‘very productive’ and a ‘more than courteous give-and-take.’”
The president still exudes a folksy demeanor, but underneath that is a short fuse and an obsession with details.
- “Quick decision-making is not Mr. Biden’s style. His reputation as a plain-speaking politician hides a more complicated truth. Before making up his mind, the president demands hours of detail-laden debate from scores of policy experts, taking everyone around him on what some in the West Wing refer to as his Socratic ‘journey’ before arriving at a conclusion,” the Times’s Michael Shear, Katie Rogers and Annie Karni report. “Those trips are often difficult for his advisers, who are peppered with sometimes obscure questions. Avoiding Mr. Biden’s ire during one of his decision-making seminars means not only going beyond the vague talking points that he will reject, but also steering clear of responses laced with acronyms or too much policy minutiae, which will prompt an outburst of frustration, often laced with profanity.”
Democrats keep rejecting the GOP’s debt limit demands.
- “In fact, the Democratic majority says it has no intention of negotiating with Republicans bent on slashing spending as a condition for avoiding default after the July 31 deadline. Democrats say they won't haggle with the minority party over the faith and credit of the United States, citing lessons from the presidency of Barack Obama,” Politico's Burgess Everett, Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes report. “Republicans’ official party position ‘doesn’t matter to me,’ said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). ‘We don’t negotiate on the debt ceiling.’”
- “Republican leaders retort that they do not have the votes to pass a clean debt ceiling extension without slashing spending. The Senate GOP recently made it a conference position to pair spending cuts with debt ceiling hikes. As such, Senate Minority Whip John Thune said it’s ‘unlikely’ he could produce 10 votes for the debt ceiling without spending cuts. Republicans said though their new caucus rule is nonbinding, GOP senators are intent on taking a hard line on the debt.”
Congressional measures targeting sexual assault in the military gained momentum this week.
- “Proposals in both chambers would strip military commanders of the authority to decide which alleged incidents of sexual assault are tried in military courts and which result in lesser punishments or are dismissed, reflecting lawmakers’ frustration with the failure of earlier attempts to end the scourge of harassment and assault in the ranks,” Missy Ryan reports. “The measures, championed by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) in the House and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in the Senate, are gaining support despite opposition from military leaders, who for years have argued that commanders must retain responsibility for their subordinates’ actions to effectively lead units and prepare them for battle.”
The White House is considering tweaks to the D.C. statehood bill to “allay concerns” in the Senate.
- “The Biden administration’s involvement in negotiating the bill’s future follows its strong endorsement of D.C. statehood last month, just before the Washington, D.C. Admission Act was approved by the House on a strict party-line vote. The bill’s odds are much steeper in the evenly divided Senate, with Republicans dismissing D.C. statehood as an unconstitutional Democratic power grab,” Meagan Flynn and Seung Min Kim report.
- “Our view is that admitting D.C. as a state is well within Congress’s power and that the arguments to the contrary are faulty,” said Psaki. “But we also think there are ways to allay the concerns that have been raised. And that’s why we’re working with Congress to make the bill as strong as possible.”
- The issue revolves around the 23rd Amendment, which grants three electoral votes to the federal district. Under the current proposed plan, the federal district would shrink to a two-mile enclave, and the only residents living there would presumably be those at 1600 Pennsylvania. Democrats and Republicans agree the president’s family shouldn’t control three electoral votes.
- “Forty-six of the 50 senators in the Democratic caucus have backed the statehood bill, with the addition of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) this week. An aide on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs said Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) plans to hold a hearing on the bill in the next few months.”
The CDC’s new guidelines on vaccinated Americans to not wear masks in most places was greeted with cautious optimism.
- “Many epidemiologists echoed the C.D.C. in saying that as long as people were fully vaccinated, they could gather without precautions. But the C.D.C. went further than the epidemiologists by giving the OK for vaccinated people to stop masking in groups with an unknown number of unvaccinated people. ‘It is either you trust the vaccine, or you do not,’ said Kristin Harrington, an epidemiology Ph.D. student at Emory.”
- The new guidance is a huge gamble, some experts told The Daily Beast. “Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician and public health expert in New York City, believes the new guidelines generally make sense, ‘as long as we’re not seeing a sudden surge in local community spread.’ Offices and schools shouldn’t be an issue, although Redlener thinks it’s still too risky to go maskless in crowded bars, which are ‘just too unpredictable about keeping people apart.’ There are two potential problems now lurking in the wings, he argued. ‘One, we don't actually know for sure what's going to happen in the wintertime, when people are going to be indoors more, which is why we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible now,’ he [said]. ‘The second thing that keeps me up at night are the apocalyptic disasters in India, Nepal, South America—potential breeding grounds for new variants that could get to the U.S. and disrupt the progress that we’re making.’”
Quote of the day
Asked by CNN whether the House’s mask mandate would be relaxed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “No. Are they all vaccinated?”
Congressional Democrats have a 100 percent vaccination rate. Republicans, not so much.
- Per CNN’s count, “312 of the 431 members of the House — just over 72% of the 431-member body — have now received a Covid-19 vaccination. Of that, all 219 House Democrats have reported being vaccinated. Among the Republican conference, 95 of the 212 members — 44.8% — have said they are vaccinated. One hundred and twelve Republican offices did not respond to multiple CNN inquires. One House Republican, Rep. Tom Massie of Kentucky, said he is not vaccinated.”
Hot on the left
Footage from 2019 shows Marjorie Taylor Greene – before she became a congresswoman – taunting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) staff outside her locked office. CNN resurfaced the video following a Post report that Greene, who was elected in 2020, confronted Ocasio-Cortez outside the House chamber on Wednesday.
In response to Greene's actions on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez called her a “woman that's deeply unwell”:
Hot on the right
South Dakota's lone representative, Republican Dusty Johnson, came up with new uses for face masks now that the CDC's new guidance for vaccinated Americans is out:
Congressional earmarks, visualized
“The return of congressional earmarks has sparked a massive dash for cash on Capitol Hill, where more than 300 House Democrats and Republicans have sought nearly $21 billion in federal funding to help their home districts and pet projects — and shore up their reelection prospects,” Tony Romm and Alyssa Fowers report.
Today in Washington
Biden will meet with six “Dreamers” to discuss their work in health care, education and agriculture today at 3 p.m. At 4:30 p.m., he will receive the weekly economic briefing.
In the afternoon, Vice President Harris will travel to New York and join second gentleman Douglas Emhoff for their daughter’s graduation.
Seth Meyers said he can't ignore the fact that Trump called a racing horse a “junkie”: