No president wants to get caught in a fleeting “Mission Accomplished” moment that looks in retrospect like a premature, overly exuberant triumph.
But while he has foretold a return to something like normal life, it’s unclear what that means. It’s unlikely the virus could be stamped out entirely, like smallpox. Americans could instead be in for annual strains, like the flu, with yearly boosters as the remedy.
Biden will detail the next steps in the fight in a speech at 5 p.m. Eastern. Gallup polling early last month found just 48 percent of Americans say he has laid out a “clear plan" of action against the virus, even as his approval rating has slipped.
The president is expected to sign an order today requiring all federal employees get vaccinated, without any option for testing as an alternative, according to a person familiar with his plans.
He is also expected to propose steps to keep schools open, boost testing, require mask-wearing in some settings and improve care for those who have had the virus, the White House said. My colleague Dan Diamond reported Biden could also soon call for a global vaccination summit around the late-September U.N. General Assembly.
He is not expected to set a target date for victory over the pandemic, a politically risky promise that would require recalcitrant GOP governors to cooperate with his calls for aggressive vaccination and mask-wearing. (“Even if we devote every resource we have,” Biden said March 11, “beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity.”)
With the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks looming this weekend, it’s worth looking back at a curious stretch in the 2004 campaign when both President George W. Bush and his Democratic rival, former Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), got into trouble for offering nuanced answers to the question of how the war on terrorism would be won.
Bush, known for blunt talk like demanding Osama bin Laden “dead or alive,” gave an uncharacteristically — and politically risky — subtle answer when asked in August whether the United States could win the war on terrorism.
“I don’t think you can win it,” he told Matt Lauer of NBC News. “But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.”
Come October of that same year, it was Kerry’s turn in the barrel after he told the New York Times that victory in the war on terrorism meant a return to when “terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance.”
"As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling,” Kerry said. “But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life."
Bush and Kerry quickly retreated, but the undeclared War on Nuance won’t end with a treaty signed on a battleship. (This is a joke that borrows an image the 43rd president frequently invoked when talking about the war on terrorism.)
It’s a challenge of policy — can you truly defeat a tactic like terrorism, or social ills the system perpetuates, like poverty or crime? And it’s a challenge of political rhetoric, of fanning American hopes without raising them only to dash them later.
That’s the balancing act Biden faces now, not quite eight months into his presidency, as the virulent delta variant of the coronavirus has piled up cases, filled hospital beds and swollen the U.S. death toll to more than 650,000.
“We know that increasing vaccinations will stop the spread of the pandemic, will get the pandemic under control, will return people to normal life,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday. “We are still at war with the virus.”
Biden himself has promised the country can get back to normal — or something close to it — if Americans will only get vaccinated and wear masks.
“We all want our lives to get back to normal, and fully vaccinated workplaces will make that happen more quickly and more successfully,” the president said July 29 in the East Room of the White House.
Americans who’ve had their shot(s) are “able to return to a closer-to-normal life,” he said June 3 in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the presidential mansion.
“Fully vaccinated people are safely [shedding] their masks and greeting one another with a smile. Grandparents are hugging their grandkids again. Small-business owners are reopening storefronts and restaurants,” he said.
But perhaps the best distillation of Biden’s approach came in a March 11 prime-time speech, in which he cautiously held out the possibility of a normal-ish July 4 celebration.
“If we do our part, if we do this together, by July Fourth, there’s a good chance you, your family and friends can gather in your backyard and have a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” Biden said.
But, he said, “a lot can happen. Conditions can change. The scientists have made clear that things may get worse again as new variants of the virus spread.”
He added: "I don't want to over-promise anything here."
What’s happening now
Weekly jobless claims dropped sharply to 310,000, another new pandemic low. “The total for the week ended Sept. 4 represented a substantial drop from the previous week’s 345,000 and is the lowest since March 14, 2020,” CNBC’s Jeff Cox writes. “Claims may have been still lower except for a substantial bump in Louisiana, which was hammered by Hurricane Ida."
Results of National Institutes of Health studies on mixing vaccines are expected to roll out starting late September, Lenny Bernstein and Laurie McGinley report. Final results on all nine studies will not be available until late October. The impact of a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as a booster is the focus of the last three studies underway at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which means consumers already inoculated with the Moderna and J&J vaccines won’t have information on using Pfizer’s version as a booster until late next month.
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- For thousands of refugees displaced by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. is home now, writes Abigail Hauslohner. “Though many have flourished, their lives are colored by a certain ambivalence. Their journeys to the land of opportunity were spurred by tragedy and loss, propelled by the wars launched by the United States.”
- Lily Kuo writes about the “sprawling ‘rectification’ campaign" China’s Xi Jinping is leading to redraw the “boundaries of business and society in China as [he] prepares to take on a controversial third term in 2022.” The “dizzying regulatory crackdown unleashed by China’s government has spared almost no sector over the past few months.”
- What’s happening inside North Korea? Since the pandemic, the window has slammed shut, writes Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “North Korea sealed its borders shut in the pandemic, even to its major trade partner, China, a move that the U.N. human rights watchdog said exacerbated shortages of food and medical supplies. But the harsh measure has also led to a loss of firsthand insights on the country that helped policymakers connect the dots about internal pressures.”
… and beyond
- Layoffs and delays are threatening California’s high-speed rail, writes the Sacramento Bee’s David Lightman: “Top Democrats withheld billions of dollars in funding Gov. Gavin Newsom sought for the state’s high-speed rail line in the final days of this year’s legislative session, threatening construction delays and layoffs unless they come to a deal in early 2022.”
- Walmart is rethinking its China “hypermarket” strategy as Alibaba and other e-commerce giants gain terrain, Bloomberg News reports.
The latest on Afghanistan
The Taliban will allow 200 dual nationals, including about 30 Americans, to leave Afghanistan.
- The dual nationals will be allowed to leave today, as the airport was declared repaired and ready for some commercial flights, Susannah George and Siobhán O’Grady report.
- “The manifest for the Qatar Airways flight granted permission for 211 Afghans to leave from Kabul, according to diplomats in Kabul ... The Taliban was pressed to allow the departures by U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad.”
- “The dual nationals on the manifest also included passport holders from Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Canada and Germany.”
The new Taliban government’s interior ministry is seeking to end protests in the country.
- “The minister has issued an order to end all protests in the country — unless demonstrators get prior permission, including approval of slogans and banners,” the AP reports.
- “It’s unlikely the women who have been leading near daily protest demanding their rights from the country’s hardline Islamic rulers will be allowed to protest under the new rules.”
Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his flight out of Kabul was done to save Afghanistan’s capital from bloodshed.
- On Twitter, Ghani also denied “widespread allegations of corruption as well as charges that he left the country with millions of dollars. He says there should be an independent investigation,” the AP reports.
The Biden agenda
Skill workers are scarce, posing a challenge for Biden’s infrastructure plan.
- “With baby boomers aging out of the work force and not enough young people to replace them, John M. Irvine, a senior vice president at Anchor, worries there will not be enough workers to hire for all those new projects” envisioned in the infrastructure bill that Biden hopes to get through Congress, the New York Times’s Madeleine Ngo reports.
- “ ‘Do we have the work force ready right now to take care of this? Absolutely not,’ said Beverly Scott, the vice chair of the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council. A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey found that 88 percent of commercial construction contractors reported moderate-to-high levels of difficulty finding skilled workers, and more than a third had to turn down work because of labor deficiencies.”
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has a list of demands.
- “The West Virginia Democrat and his staff have been engaged for weeks in intensive negotiations with the chairs of key Senate committees ahead of his party's release of a sprawling bill to expand the social safety net, laying down his demands on a wide-range of issues: health care, education, child care and taxes, according to multiple sources familiar with the talks,” CNN’s Manu Raju reports.
- Manchin has been in talks with Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and has made it clear “he won't cave on aggressive climate provisions sought by many Democrats.”
- He’s also met with other rank-and-file Democrats as well, “including Sen. Michael Bennet over the Colorado Democrat's push to broaden and bolster the child tax credit, which the West Virginian wants to bring down to a level far lower than what many in his party want.”
Quote of the day
“It’s easy to put off health screenings, just like I did,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said while revealing she received treatment for breast cancer this year after briefly delaying routine health screenings. “But I hope my experience is a reminder for everyone of the value of routine health checkups, exams, and follow-through. I am so fortunate to have caught the cancer at an early enough stage and to not need chemotherapy or other extensive treatments, which unfortunately is not the case for so many others.”
Hot on the left
Vice President Harris stumped with California Gov. Gavin Newsom ahead of the recall vote. “The recall is not over, and the results still very much in the balance. But polls and mail-in ballot returns are all trending toward Newsom in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, pulled along by his message to reject for reasons of public health, women’s reproductive rights and environmental policy a Republican-led recall effort mounted against him three years into his first term,” Scott Wilson reports.
Hot on the right
The White House will withdraw the nomination of David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the face of bipartisan pushback over his gun-control advocacy. “Biden nominated Chipman, who worked at ATF for more than two decades before joining the gun control group led by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in April as part of a larger effort to curb gun violence,” Seung Min Kim and Tyler Pager report.
Congressional redistricting, visualized
The once-a-decade redrawing of U.S. congressional and state legislative boundaries is underway across the country. The redistricting process, will alter the country’s political landscape, as parties and interest groups jockey to shape districts in ways that could cement their advantage for the next 10 years. Check out our interactive hub to see how redistricting works in your state.
Today in Washington
Biden will deliver remarks on his plan to stop the spread of the delta variant and boost vaccinations at 5 p.m.
Harris will meet with abortion and reproductive health providers and patients from Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky and New Mexico at 3:30 p.m. to discuss the impact of the Texas abortion statute that bans the procedure as early as six weeks.
Seth Meyers gave kudos to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) for giving Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) a lesson on why six weeks might not be enough time for women to realize that they are pregnant: