with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1925, schoolteacher John T. Scopes was convicted of violating a Tennessee law that prohibited teaching evolution in public schools. The conviction and an attendant $100 fine were later overturned on a technicality.

As the delta variant of the coronavirus sickens tens of thousands each week and fills hospital beds around the country, the bipartisan chorus urging Americans to get vaccinated seems to be growing. But it’s still missing one loud, influential voice: Donald Trump's. 

Trump quietly got vaccinated before President Biden took office on Jan. 20, opting against setting an on-camera example for his millions of followers. In February, he told the Conservative Political Action Conference “everybody go get your shot.” 

At the most recent CPAC gathering, however, the crowd cheered when one speaker mocked the federal government for falling short of getting 90 percent of the population vaccinated. 

In a statement on Sunday, Trump seemed to join in, scoffing at Biden’s vaccination campaign. 

He's way behind schedule, and people are refusing to take the Vaccine because they don't trust his Administration, they don't trust the Election results, and they certainly don't trust the Fake News, which is refusing to tell the Truth,” the former president said in a statement. 

He did not encourage Americans to get vaccinated.

Trump has mentioned the vaccine repeatedly over the past six months, but almost exclusively to express his pique about not getting enough accolades for “Operation Warp Speed,” generally credited with boosting the speed and scope of developing shots against the coronavirus. 

The rise of the delta variant has infused pro-vaccine political figures  including some Republican leaders and Fox News personalities  with fresh urgency. 

On Tuesday, Biden used both of his public events a celebration of the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a Cabinet meeting to practically beg Americans to get the jab(s), as he has since taking office. 

“You all who don’t have a shot, man: Get one, okay?” Biden said as he welcomed the team to the White House. “Get one. Get one.” (The president got a literal “amen” from Bucs Coach Bruce Arians, who said his team had to “beat the virus first” before it thumped the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9.) 

I want to thank the NFL for setting strong vaccination goals so fans can go see a game without it becoming a super-spreader event,” Biden continued. “Getting vaccinated is about staying healthy and understanding that no one is invincible, even if you are young and you’re fit.” 

Last week, the NFL Network reported 13 teams have vaccinated 85 percent of their players and 73.8 percent of players have had at least one shot. 

“The restrictions for non-vaccinated players are significant, including daily testing (even during byes), masks, limits on in-person meetings, being barred from eating in the cafeteria, etc,” wrote Kevin Patra. 

Biden’s plea wasn’t a surprise; it’s been his mantra. Neither was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) appeal to Americans to get inoculated — he’s been a vigorous coronavirus vaccine booster since at least December 2020. 

At the Associated Press, Lisa Mascaro reported:  

McConnell urged Americans to ignore the ‘demonstrably bad advice’ coming from pundits and others against the vaccines. As cases skyrocket, he noted that nearly all the new virus hospitalizations in the U.S. are among people who have not been vaccinated. 

If there is anybody out there willing to listen: Get vaccinated,’ McConnell said at his weekly press conference at the Capitol. 

These shots need to get in everybody’s arms as rapidly as possible or we’re going to be back in a situation in the fall that we don’t yearn for — that we went through last year,’ he said. ‘This is not complicated.’ ” 

On the other hand, reporter Tyler Bridges of the Baton Rouge/New Orleans Advocate chronicled how the dangerous delta variant swung House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to getting his first shot on Sunday. 

“ 'Especially with the delta variant becoming a lot more aggressive and seeing another spike, it was a good time to do it,’ ” he said in an interview. ‘When you talk to people who run hospitals, in New Orleans or other states, 90% of people in hospital with delta variant have not been vaccinated. That’s another signal the vaccine works.’ 

Scalise said he waited, in part, because he tested positive for COVID antibodies a while back — he believes he had a mild case of the virus at some point – and thought he had some immunity from that.  

It’s safe and effective,’ Scalise said, noting he supported funding that allowed the Trump administration to fast-track the process. ‘It was heavily tested on thousands of people before the FDA gave its approval. Some people believe that it might have been rushed. That’s not the case. I’ve been vocal about that for months. I know their process has high standards. The FDA approval process is probably the most respected in the world.’ ” 

Both Scalise and McConnell declined to criticize fellow Republicans who have expressed opposition to the vaccine or stayed silent. 

My colleague Philip Bump, meanwhile, noted Fox News host Sean Hannity didn’t explicitly tell his viewers to get vaccinated. But he came closer than some of his prime-time colleagues. 

“ 'Please take covid seriously,’ Hannity said Monday night. ‘I can’t say it enough. Enough people have died. We don’t need any more death.’ 

I believe in science,’ he added a bit later. ‘I believe in the science of vaccination.’ ” 

 

 

What’s happening now

Wildfire smoke pouring into the Mid-Atlantic prompts an air-quality alert for D.C. and Baltimore. “Smoke from wildfires in the western United States and southern Canada is spilling into the eastern United States and is thick enough and low enough to foul the air,” Jason Samenow reports. “Washington and Baltimore are among several major cities from the Mid-Atlantic to the Northeast under air-quality alerts Wednesday. Philadelphia, New York City and Boston are among the others.”

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Driven by covid deaths, U.S. life expectancy dropped by 1.5 years in 2020,” by Allyson Chiu, Lindsey Bever and Ariana Eunjung Cha: “The decline, which is the largest seen in a single year since World War II, reflects the pandemic’s sustained toll on Americans, particularly the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on communities of color. Black Americans lost 2.9 years of life expectancy while Latinos, who have longer life expectancy than non-Hispanic Blacks or Whites, saw a drop of three years. There was a decrease of 1.2 years among White people.”
  • Allen Weisselberg resigned from the top of the Trump Organization. So who’s running the company now?” by David Fahrenthold, Josh Dawsey and Jonathan O’Connell: “Weisselberg still works at the company, according to one person familiar with the Trump Organization. But his resignation from those formal posts means that the company’s already small executive ranks have shrunk even further, at a time when the company faces a raft of financial and legal problems. ... The Trump Organization is controlled by the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust — a legal entity to which Trump transferred his hundreds of companies when he took office in 2017. The trust, in turn is controlled by trustees. Previously, there were two. But after Weisselberg resigned, just one was left: Trump Jr.”

… and beyond

  • Fed Chair Powell enjoys support the reappointment, but he’s not a lock,” by the Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos and Andrew Restuccia: “Chairman Jerome Powell, whose term expires in February, is viewed by some inside and many outside the administration as the front-runner for the job. But if Mr. Biden decides he would prefer his own pick, rather than the Republican chosen by President Trump, Fed governor Lael Brainard is the most likely candidate to succeed him. ‘The president will engage with his senior economic team in a careful and thoughtful process to appoint a Federal Reserve chair in a timely manner,’ a White House official said. The White House declined to comment on specific names that may be under consideration both for Fed chair and other vacancies on the seven-member board of governors.”
  • France launches vaccine pass for cultural venues,” by the AFP: “People wanting to go to cinemas, museums or sports matches in France have to prove they have had a Covid-19 vaccination or a recent negative test from Wednesday as the country rolls out its controversial vaccine passport system in the face of surging new cases. The so-called ‘health pass’ will be required for all events or places with more than 50 people, before being extended to restaurants, cafes and large shopping centres in August.”
  • “ ‘I’m sorry, but it’s too late’ Alabama doctor on treating unvaccinated, dying COVID patients,” by Al.com’s Dennis Pillion: “Dr. Brytney Cobia said Monday that all but one of her COVID patients in Alabama did not receive the vaccine. The vaccinated patient, she said, just needed a little oxygen and is expected to fully recover. Some of the others are dying. ‘I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections,’ wrote Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, in an emotional Facebook post Sunday. ‘One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.’ Three COVID-19 vaccines have been widely available in Alabama for months now, yet the state is last in the nation in vaccination rate, with only 33.7 percent of the population fully vaccinated.”

At the table

Today we’re lunching with Michael Birnbaum, The Post’s Brussels bureau chief. Birnbaum is one of the many Post reporters and editors who worked on the Pegasus Project, a global investigation into the Israeli firm NSO Group, whose military-grade spyware was used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists and business executives. 

Alfaro: How do you balance work on a project this delicate, with a subject area that hits so close to home, while protecting your reporters and their information?  

Birnbaum: Because this investigation centered around extraordinarily powerful spyware that is hard for even the most security-conscious users to defend against, it was necessary to take unusually extensive efforts to find ways to communicate securely, both among the reporters working on the project and among the potential victims of spying. The reporters on the project spent a lot of time thinking about how to approach people whose numbers were on the list to try to do further forensic research to determine whether their phones had in fact been hacked. For a reporter to be hacked is devastating we need people to be able to trust us with their stories and information. In some countries, if a government knows you’re talking to a reporter, you’ll get thrown in jail. For the journalist, it’s crippling to know not only that you’re a target yourself but that you’re also endangering the people you speak to. 

Alfaro: On Monday, you and some of our colleagues opened one of the series’ stories by drawing a comparison between espionage in communist-era Hungary, and the espionage we are seeing now. Does Pegasus mark a new era in espionage? How does it compare to anything we’ve seen before? 

Birnbaum: Spying is an ancient art form, and governments were surveilling each other and their citizens long before smartphones existed. Some of the people we approached weren’t that surprised to learn they were potential targets of surveillance; others were shocked. There are a few notable things about Pegasus: one is that it is indeed an especially powerful tool, able to burrow into the deepest corners of phones, including apps such as WhatsApp and Signal that consumers typically expect to be secure. Another is that we know it’s effective on iPhones, even though Apple has billed their products as being more protected than Androids and other phones. A third is that it makes it clear that we are entering a new period in which powerful spying tools are more accessible than ever before even for countries that haven’t typically had especially powerful homegrown spy agencies. For the right price, many end users seem to have been able to license the technology and use it, not always for its theoretical purpose of fighting terrorism and ensuring national security.  

Alfaro: Back to the Hungary story, your team wrote that the case there is notable because Hungary is a member of the E.U., where privacy “is supposed to be a fundamental right and core societal value.” But some of these guarantees are being rolled back not only in Hungary, but also in places like Poland and Slovenia. Is this part of a bigger pattern worldwide? What does it say of the state of affairs in Hungary, under a leader like [Prime Minister Viktor]  Orban? 

Birnbaum: In Hungary and around the world, we found this spyware being used against journalists, human rights defenders, and other members of civil society who are devoted to keeping governments honest and accountable. It does seem to be part of a broader rollback of the sorts of freedoms we’ve come to expect from democracies: privacy, protections for people opposed to those in power, independent courts, guarantees of the right to vote. In Hungary, Orban’s been in power more than a decade now, and he has been very effective at using the institutions of democracy to entrench his power. Now, groups such as the European Union are suing his government for what they say are violations of the independence of courts and other infringements. 

Alfaro: In one of the latest stories … The Post revealed that it wasn’t just journalists and activists presidents, prime ministers and kings were also on the list of phone numbers that included some targets of Pegasus spyware. What do you make of this finding, and do you think any potential changes made either to technology or laws in response to these reports will be accelerated because of its impact on heads of state? 

Birnbaum: I think world leaders to a certain extent know that they are prime targets for spying, and many use secure devices for communication in addition to their civilian phones. But even the most tech-savvy among them for instance, French President Emmanuel Macron, who’s 43 still ended up as targets. In fact, potentially because he’s tech-savvy, and therefore apparently finds his iPhone irresistible, he seems to have been vulnerable. NSO, the Israeli company that sells the Pegasus technology, has said it would investigate how its customers use its tools, and that any spying on journalists in particular is clearly a violation of the intended purpose of the product. And we’ve also seen leaders around the world, including Macron, calling today for their own countries to investigate. 

Alfaro: And, finally, there’s no need to overstate the impact of an investigation this large, but what do you make of the response so far? 

Birnbaum: I’ve been struck by the emotional response to our coverage. People’s lives are so bound up in their phones. They are a constant companion. We use them for hours every day. I have three smartphones sitting within a foot of my hands as I type this right now. And the idea that they could so easily be compromised, so easily be turned into a tool for total monitoring by a malevolent actor, I think that hits home for a lot of people.  

On the Hill

Key federal aid programs are running out of time — and cash — as the delta variant spreads. 
  • “Some of the federal stimulus programs that kept families and businesses afloat financially throughout the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are soon expiring or already depleted, raising fresh economic fears at a time when another wave of infections is starting to sweep the country,” Tony Romm reports.
  • “No state has announced the sort of major restrictions on travel or commerce that Americans nationwide experienced last spring, the result of which helped slow the spread of the pandemic at considerable cost to the economy. The federal government has also set aside other assistance in recent months, including a $350 billion pot for cities and states that they theoretically can use to offset any additional financial blow from a worsening pandemic.”
  • For now, the variant only adds to the myriad economic challenges facing Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers in recent days have turned their attention to more long-term investments, including nearly $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements, which the Senate could begin debating as soon as this week.”
Republicans are trying to delay Sen. Chuck Schumer’s early vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure deal, scheduled for today. 
  • “With [Schumer] (D-N.Y.) refusing to bend, GOP senators indicated that they plan to oppose a vote to begin debate on the deal they helped craft. In a closed-door lunch Tuesday afternoon, Senate Republicans came to a consensus that they could not support advancing a package that had yet to be finalized, although negotiators have insisted for days that they are close to putting the finishing touches on the agreement, according an attendee,” Romm, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report.
  • “Despite months of work, lawmakers remain torn on how to spend the money — and how, exactly, to pay for that spending — prompting some Republicans to say they need more time. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the lawmakers closely involved in figuring out how to finance the package, acknowledged Tuesday that negotiators are ‘not going to have a product ready’ Wednesday in time for the vote.”
  • To underscore how close the negotiators are to a final agreement, several GOP senators were readying a formal letter Tuesday to Schumer, saying they would be prepared to vote to advance the infrastructure package Monday ... At least eight GOP senators as of Tuesday afternoon had already committed to doing so … and 10 would be needed to advance legislation if all 50 Democratic senators were on board.”

The White House this morning signaled its continued support for Schumer's strategy:

Vice President Harris said she’s speaking with Republican senators on a key piece of voting legislation. 
  • “During a phone interview with CBS News, the vice president said there is ‘no bright line’ defining whom she speaks to about voting rights legislation. She said it's ‘a non-partisan issue’ and ‘should be approached that way,’” CBS News’s Tim Perry reports. “In response to a question about whether she had spoken with any GOP senators … she replied, ‘I have spoken to Republican senators — both elected Republicans and Republican leaders,’ Harris said, and she identified one GOP senator. ‘I've talked with [Sen. Lisa] Murkowski about this issue,’ Harris said.”
  • “Harris' office later clarified that the two had discussed infrastructure, not voting rights. A spokesperson for Murkowski did not respond to a request for comment." Murkowski doesn't support the main voting rights bill embraced by Democrats,
  • “In the interview, Harris twice refused to support filibuster reform of any type, but echoed the president in saying that ‘there is a national imperative to pass the voting rights legislation, and that is the test of our time.’ Pressed further on filibuster reform, she added, ‘Any changes to the filibuster is going to require all Senate Democrats to support those changes.’ ”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is blocking diplomats from being confirmed, and it has nothing to do with their qualifications. 
  • “The Biden administration — with about 60 State Department nominees waiting to be confirmed — is encountering greater roadblocks in securing Senate confirmations at State than at any other agency. Administration officials and Democrats point to Republicans, who admit they're playing a role. But sources from all three groups say the bulk of the blame should be placed on Cruz,” CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Nicole Gaouette report. “[Cruz has been] proudly claiming responsibility for blocks on a slew of senior officials. Cruz is trying to pressure the administration on a specific point of Russia policy, a campaign that other Republicans say is fruitless and that triggered a fiery shouting match with Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
  • “Cruz does not appear willing to budge. ‘I look forward to lifting the holds just as soon as they impose the sanctions on Nord Stream 2 that are required by federal law,’ he told CNN.”

Quote of the day

“There’s absolutely no reason why [Schumer] has to have the vote” on infrastructure on Wednesday, said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “It does not advance the ball. It does not achieve any goal except to alienate people.”

Hot on the left

A federal judge temporarily blocked an Arkansas law banning nearly all abortions, calling it an “imminent threat” to the constitutional rights of women seeking abortions in the state, Bryan Pietsch reports. “Judge Kristine Baker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas issued a preliminary injunction, preventing the law from being enforced until she can issue a final ruling. Baker, responding to the challenge brought by advocates of abortion rights, wrote that bans on abortions before a fetus is considered viable are ‘categorically unconstitutional.’ The ban was set to go into effect on July 28 after being signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) in March.”

Hot on the right

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) was a beloved dentist. His former clients wonder what happened to him. “Gosar’s evolution from the Arizona Dental Association’s 2001 Dentist of the Year to a conspiracy-minded, race-baiting congressman isn’t exactly surprising to anyone paying attention to today’s GOP and its associated right-wing media personalities, whose adoption of Trump’s personal bugbears has made conspiracy theorists of many rank-and-file Republicans,” Ben Terris reports. “And yet, to the people who knew Gosar as a mild-mannered dentist, it all feels shocking. ‘Gosar the dentist had to be the real Paul Gosar,’ said Coreen Anderson, the patient who became loyal to him due to his gentle, careful, nonjudgmental style. ‘It had to be. There’s no way that person was fake. Did he get brainwashed? Did the power get to this head? I honestly don’t know what could have happened.’ ” 

D.C. outdoor dining added barriers for disabled, visualized

Navigating Washington D.C. has historically been more challenging for people with disabilities, but last year, as D.C. pivoted to more outdoor dining in response to the pandemic, the sidewalks became more crowded — and less accessible, Brittany Renee Mayes and Maria Aguilar report.

Today in Washington

Biden will visit Cincinnati, where he will stop by an electrical training center to discuss his Build Back Better agenda at 5:40 p.m. At 8 p.m., Biden will participate in a CNN town hall.

Harris will meet with poll workers and other election officials at 2:45 p.m. to hear about their experiences helping voters cast their ballots and have their ballots counted. 

In closing

Our interactives team is bringing you three new Olympic sports in augmented reality so you, too, can experience the future of the Summer Games. Follow this link and watch Brooke Raboutou, a lifelong climber who will make her Olympic debut along with the sport this year, speed climb in front of you.

And Stephen Colbert marked Jeff Bezos's short trip to space by calling it a “momentous day in the history of some people having way too much money”: