with Tobi Raji

Good Friday morning. We've (almost) made it. Have a great weekend, get vaccinated, & see you on Monday. Thanks for waking up with us. 

The people

‘A PANDEMIC OF THE UNVACCINATED’ has prompted President Biden to announce new requirements and incentives to boost sluggish vaccination rates as coronavirus cases are surging across the U.S. and new research shows that vaccinated people can in fact spread the virus. 

An alarming internal document shared within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and obtained by our colleagues Yasmeen Abutaleb, Carolyn Y. Johnson and Joel Achenbach, argues that officials must “acknowledge the war has changed as the delta variant of the coronavirus “appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox.

  • It cites a combination of recently obtained, still-unpublished data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated. Vaccinated people infected with delta have measurable viral loads similar to those who are unvaccinated and infected with the variant.
  • One of the slides states that there is a higher risk among older age groups for hospitalization and death relative to younger people, regardless of vaccination status. Another estimates that there are 35,000 symptomatic infections per week among 162 million vaccinated Americans.” 

The document also lays out the communications challenge facing the CDC: It must continue to emphasize the proven efficacy of the vaccines at preventing severe illness and death while acknowledging milder breakthrough infections may not be so rare after all, and that vaccinated individuals are transmitting the virus. The agency must move the goal posts of success in full public view,” Yasmeen, Carolyn, and Joel report. 

  • “Although it’s rare, we believe that at an individual level, vaccinated people may spread the virus, which is why we updated our recommendation,” a federal health official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, told The Post. “Waiting even days to publish the data could result in needless suffering and as public health professionals we cannot accept that.”

The communications challenge was on full display on Thursday after the CDC announced a reversal in guidance on mask-wearing among vaccinated people: “Even people who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors in communities with substantial viral spread or when in the presence of people who are particularly vulnerable to infection and illness, the CDC said.” 

On Capitol Hill, the reemergence of mask mandates has reignited contentious partisan squabbling: “Lawmakers from districts with low rates of infection and high rates of vaccination — many of them Democrats — are compliantly wearing their masks, while members of Congress from areas where the virus is spreading rapidly — including many Republicans — have resisted, or are wearing their masks under protest,' the New York Times's Nicholas Fandos and Jonathan Weisman report. 

  • “In something of a twist, Republicans have co-opted a Democratic phrase and are insisting that they are the ones following the science, given Washington’s high vaccination rate and relatively low case count. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says its latest mask recommendations reflect the resurgent coronavirus, driven by a new, highly contagious variant ripping through unvaccinated populations.”

“Congressional aides and visitors to the House side of the Capitol will face arrest if they're not wearing masks, the head of the U.S. Capitol Police announced this week,” the Hill's Mike Lillis reports. 

  • “In a Wednesday letter to his officer corps, Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger ordered that they enforce the new mask guidelines across the Capitol complex. Those new rules, installed by the Capitol physician earlier in the week, include a mask mandate on the House side of the Capitol and all House office buildings.”

Biden waded back into the fierce political debate on Thursday, announcing new requirements aimed at boosting vaccination rates for federal workers and contractors: “Federal workers will be required to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else comply with new rules on mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and more. The strict new guidelines are aimed at increasing sluggish vaccination rates among the huge number of Americans who draw federal paychecks — and to set an example for private employers around the country,” the Associated Press's Alexandra Jaffe, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, and Jonathan Lemire report. 

  • By the numbers: “His comments came as some 60% of American adults have been fully vaccinated. He had set a July 4 goal to get at least one shot in 70% of adults, and is still not quite there. The latest figure is 69.3%. And there remains significant resistance from many Republicans and some unions to vaccine mandates for employers.”
  • “Reflecting an awareness of the political land mines surrounding mandates, administration officials emphasize that their plan does not require workers to receive the vaccine but aims to make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to comply. Biden directed his team to take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.”
  • Biden's also asking “states and cities to use federal rescue funds to offer $100 for residents to get their shots, and a program that would reimburse employers for providing paid time to allow their workers and their families to receive the vaccine,” USA Today's Jorge Ortiz and Ryan Miller report. 

On the Hill

CARL LEVIN, MICHIGAN’S LONGEST-SERVING SENATOR, DIES AT 87: “Carl Levin, a six-term Democratic senator from Michigan who was an influential leader on national security and whose intellect and integrity made him one of the most widely respected lawmakers of recent times, died July 29 in Detroit,” our Post colleague Michael H. Brown reports. “He was 87. He had lung cancer, said a family spokesman, Jim Townsend.

  • “A Harvard-trained lawyer who wore reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, Levin was known for scholarly analysis of issues, sound-bite-free discourse and a collaborative approach to legislating that earned him the trust of colleagues who did not share his liberal political philosophy.”
  • “Levin was the longest-serving senator in Michigan history and also had the distinction of being half of one of the longest-lasting sibling teams in congressional history. His brother Sander M. Levin, older by three years, was a Democratic congressman from the Detroit area, and the two served simultaneously for more than three decades.”

SCHUMER’S INFRASTRUCTURE LEGACY: “Just hours after Georgia voters elected two Democrats, flipping the Senate majority, on Jan. 5, Sen. Charles E. Schumer reveled in the victory and said his caucus — handed power for the first time in six years — was ‘committed to delivering the bold change and help that Americans need and demand,’” per our colleague Mike DeBonis.

  • “In the months since, Schumer has repeatedly promised ‘big and bold’ solutions to the problems ailing America. He now may be on the cusp of delivering them amid his most perilous test of leadership yet, with a bipartisan infrastructure deal moving closer to fruition, a multi-trillion-dollar economic and social policy plan waiting in the wings, and the fate of President Biden’s governing agenda hanging in the balance.”
  • “If Schumer can pull it off in the coming weeks, it would rank among the most significant feats of lawmaking in recent American history.”
  • “Still, pitfalls are ever present, and even senators who credit Schumer with shepherding the process this far are careful not to declare victory prematurely.”

BIDEN’S INFRASTRUCTURE LEGACY: “Biden’s success at propelling an infrastructure deal past its first major hurdle this week was a vindication of his faith in bipartisanship and a repudiation of the slash-and-burn politics of his immediate predecessor, [former] president Donald J. Trump, who tried and failed to block it,” the New York Times’ Jim Tankersley writes.

  • “Having campaigned as the anti-Trump — an insider who regarded compromise as a virtue, rather than a missed opportunity to crush a rival — Biden has held up the promise of a broad infrastructure accord not just as a policy priority but as a test of the fundamental rationale for his presidency.”
  • “His success or failure at keeping the bill on track will go a long way to determining his legacy, and it could be the president’s best chance to deliver on his bet that he can unite lawmakers across the political aisle to solve big problems, even at a time of intense polarization.”
  • “Biden has managed to do what Trump repeatedly promised but never could pull off: move forward on a big-spending, bipartisan deal to rebuild American roads, bridges, water pipes and more. He did so with the support of 17 Republicans during a week marked by bitter partisan disputes in Congress over mask-wearing and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.”

The policies

HAPPENING TODAY: “Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are planning to meet with Biden to discuss a path forward on voting rights legislation,” CNN’s Ali Zaslav and Manu Raju report.

THE EVICTION BIND: “The Biden administration won’t move to extend a federal moratorium on the evictions of tenants who fell behind on rent in the covid-19 pandemic in the wake of a court ruling, but it is asking Congress to authorize such an extension,” the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Ackerman reports. But “it is unlikely Congress would be able to act before the moratorium expires.”

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS? “Biden is facing pressure from fellow Democrats who believe that canceling or forgiving up to $50,000 in student loan debt is necessary for the nation’s growth,” the Hill’s Christian Spencer reports.

  • “With the pause on paying student loans set to expire in September, it refuels the conversation about loan forgiveness and expanding the date for borrowers to repay their debt until the spring.”
  • “Schumer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) have been at the forefront of the cancellation campaign, hosting news conferences, including one Tuesday, calling on Biden to take action,” our colleague Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports.
  • “We are continuing to call on President Biden to use his existing legal authority to cancel up to $50,000 of student debt,” Schumer said. “This pause has actually shown how important canceling student debt is to borrowers and to our economy.”

But … “Pelosi broke from Schumer and other powerful Democrats by disputing Biden’s authority to cancel federal student debt,” per Douglas-Gabriel.

  • “People think that the president of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not,” Pelosi said during a news conference. “He can postpone, he can delay, but he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress.”
  • “She also raised concerns about the fairness of student loan debt cancellation,” Politico’s Michael Stratford reports. “She cited the example of a family without a child in college having to pay taxes ‘to forgive somebody else’s obligations.’”

Progressives shot back:

In the media

WEEKEND REEEADS: 

Viral