Welcome to the Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 2001, President George W. Bush had what were probably his most memorable off-the-cuff remarks as he visited the ruins of the World Trade Center. 

After emergency workers told him they couldn’t hear him, a bullhorn-wielding Bush replied: “I can hear you. I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

Below: Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's bombshell reporting on a feared war with China during the waning days of the Trump presidency; Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) signs on to a tweaked voting rights bill; and the controversy over AOC's dress at the Met Gala.

The big idea

Airline passengers could be the next frontier in the vaccine mandate wars

Over the past four days, the CEO of United Airlines seemed open to the idea of the federal government requiring vaccines for its passengers and the top U.S. infectious-disease specialist declared “you should be vaccinated” to board an airplane.

But there are reasons to doubt President Biden will race to impose a new mandate while his team is still working out how to ratify his requirement that companies with at least 100 employees ensure their workers are vaccinated or get a weekly test.

While that mandate seems broadly popular, the administration has its hands full trying to codify Biden’s announcement in regulatory language, which will then face a legal onslaught from Republicans opposed to mandatory mitigation efforts.

And it’s unclear how much support such a step would get from the airline industry, which has taken a financial beating during a pandemic that has claimed more than 660,000 lives in the United States.

On Friday, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told NPR “I don’t think it’s appropriate for us as an individual business” to require travelers to get vaccinated but seemed receptive to a federal mandate, saying his company was ready to implement such a step.

Mandating vaccines for passengers is really a government issue. For us to do that, we would probably require some sort of government directive,” he said.

That said, Kirby told NPR, “we have prepared ourselves with technology to be able to upload vaccine cards and track that and implement it if the government ever chooses to go in that direction.”

(You can skip the Scary Movie Organ Music: United, like other international carriers, has been wrestling with foreign countries’ vaccine requirements. The airline’s app lets passengers pick their destination then upload documentation they meet that country’s requirements. It wouldn’t take much to apply that same technology to domestic fliers.)

But Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CBS News in late August that while travelers face vaccine requirements to go overseas, they are unworkable for domestic airline passengers.

“As international borders open, you're going to see vaccination requirements continue to grow. Don't see that happening in the U.S., though,” said Bastian.

“Look at the logistical dilemma we're carrying millions of people a week of trying to figure out who's been vaccinated, who's not, who qualifies for an exemption,” Bastian told CBS News. “It would actually bottleneck the domestic travel system.” 

(Asked whether they supported vaccine requirements for passengers, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines directed The Daily 202 to the industry group Airlines for America. An Airlines for America spokeswoman sent a statement that did not take a position.)

White House in holding pattern

The White House seems, for now, to be keeping its seat belt attached and its tray table in the upright and locked position.

On Friday, Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters asking about a vaccine mandate for airline passengers “we’re pulling available levers to [require] vaccinations and we’re not taking any measures off the table.”

But Anthony S. Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview set to be released in full later this week he supports requiring airline passengers to get their shot(s).

“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people, that you should be vaccinated,” Fauci told theSkimm.

Fauci reiterated that position in an interview yesterday with my colleague Hannah Sampson. “It’s on the table; we haven’t decided yet,” he said. “But if the president said, ‘You know, let’s go ahead and do it,’ I would be supportive of it.”

But an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Daily 202 that Zients, not Fauci, better represented Biden’s current position.

What's happening now

Poverty fell overall in 2020 due to the stimulus checks and unemployment aid, Heather Long and Amy Goldstein report. “The stimulus payments provided $1,200 cash payments to most low-income and middle-class Americans last year, moving 11.7 million people out of poverty, the Census said. Another 5.5 million people were prevented from falling into poverty by the enhanced unemployment insurance aid."

Prices rose 5.3 percent in August compared to a year ago, Rachel Siegel reports. “The August data breaks an eight-month streak of rising or steady inflation — and is a welcome sign for policymakers at the Fed and the White House.”

Trump advisers privately warned of his administration’s “critical mistakes” in preparing for the pandemic, according to emails obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the pandemic. “In truth we do not have a clue how many are infected in the USA. We are expecting the first wave to spread in the U.S. within the next 7 days,” adviser Steven Hatfill wrote to Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade director, on Feb. 29, 2020, Dan Diamond reports. “Hatfill, a virologist who began advising the Trump White House in February 2020, blamed the CDC for rolling out flawed coronavirus tests and urged Navarro to begin purchasing additional tests and deploy. His warning to Navarro came hours after then-president Trump boasted of his administration’s ‘pretty amazing’ response to coronavirus.”   

The effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ends today. Californians are heading to the polls for a final day to decide whether to end the first-term of the relatively popular Democrat and replace him with one of 46 other candidates, John Wagner reports

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Gen. Milley moved to avert a possible war with China in final days of Trump presidency, Woodward and Costa report

The first news out of “Peril, The Post's Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's new book is out today and it's big. Our colleagues report that twice in the final two months of the Trump administration, the top U.S. military officer became fearful the president's action would spark a war with China, per Isaac Stanley-Becker.

  • What: “In a pair of secret phone calls, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike,” Woodward and Costa write.
  • When: One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that unseated President Trump, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol siege carried out by his supporters in a quest to cancel the vote.
  • Why: “The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China.”
  • The key quote: “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”
  • The other key quote: “In the second call, placed to address Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 6, Li wasn’t as easily assuaged, even after Milley promised him, ‘We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.’”
  • Milley thought Trump was not mentally stable: He “believed the president had suffered a mental decline after the election, the authors write, a view he communicated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a phone call on Jan. 8. He agreed with her evaluation that Trump was unstable, according to a call transcript obtained by the authors.”
  • The nuclear option: Milley also summoned senior officers to review the procedures for launching nuclear weapons, saying the president alone could give the order — but, crucially, that he, Milley, also had to be involved. Looking each in the eye, Milley asked the officers to affirm that they had understood, the authors write, in what he considered an ‘oath.’”
  • More: Inside Biden's campaign and his debt to House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who endorsed Biden at a critical moment on a condition: he nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.
Here's the other Post story everyone should be reading

What if Republicans had a party… and Trump wasn’t there? Our colleague Ben Terris spent the weekend at Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s (R-Tex.) Youth Summit, a gathering of conservatives in Houston that didn’t feature Trump or anyone in his family. “ ‘Trump is not a God,’ said conservative commentator David Rubin, mingling with the crowd... [The event] was an opportunity to start working out what exactly the conservative movement stood for beyond fealty to the ex-president. 

Enter Dan Crenshaw. ... ‘I’m trying not to shake,’ a teenage boy [said] when the Texas congressman first appeared ... [Crenshaw’s] conference was not anti-Trump, but unlike the worshipful right-wing youth bonanzas held by Turning Point USA, it was not exactly a Trump rally, either. ... On the first full day of the conference, conservatism appeared to be, at the very least, pro-lasers and pro-fog machines. There was a screening of a mini-movie about Crenshaw escaping from antifa kidnappers and parachuting to the roof of the Hilton hotel, before rappelling down from the rafters and appearing onstage in camo pants and a tight black shirt. ... The merchandise store didn’t feature mugs of Crenshaw with sunglasses, but it did feature mugs of him with a Texas-flag eye patch and shirts featuring the congressman decked out in full combat fatigues, clutching a gun and smoking a cigar.”

… and beyond

  • Facebook knows Instagram is toxic for teen girls’ mental health, company documents show. “For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls,” the Wall Street Journal’s Georgia Wells, Jeff Horwitz, and Deepa Seetharaman report. “Expanding its base of young users is vital to the company’s more than $100 billion in annual revenue, and it doesn’t want to jeopardize their engagement with the platform.”
  • The board at Trump Plaza New Rochelle, a luxury tower in New York, dropped the Trump Organization as property manager. “Changing the building’s name is a separate issue from switching the management agent, and will be decided through a vote by unit owners,” the Real Deal reports.
  • Buying a fake vaccine card is as easy as buying weed in New York City, writes New York Magazine’s Paula Aceves. “As vaccine mandates proliferate, the black market for counterfeit cards has boomed. In the city, both the unvaccinated and vaccinated under-21 variety have been procuring cards ahead of the city’s deadline to begin enforcing its mandate for patrons and employees on Monday. Supplying them is a word-of-mouth network made up of friends, co-workers, drug dealers, and unscrupulous doctors.”

On Capitol Hill

There's a new Senate Democratic voting rights proposal that has Manchin's support.

Democrats dropped controversial provisions in their revised voting bill as pressure for action mounts

  • A group of Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), today introduced the pared-down bill on voting rights, campaign finance and government ethics, Mike DeBonis reports. According to a summary, the new Freedom to Vote Act retains significant portions of the original For the People Act, but “discards significant pieces and tweaks others, largely in an effort to placate Manchin and indulge his hopes of building enough Republican support to pass the bill.”
  • “State and local election officials would have a freer hand to purge voter rolls than under the initial bill, and a provision to change the makeup of the Federal Election Commission, moving from an even split between the parties to an odd number of members in a bid to break partisan gridlock, has been omitted from the revised bill.”
  • “The new legislation also adds provisions meant to override state-level efforts in GOP-controlled states that some are warning could allow officials to override election results.”
  • But top GOP leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “have insisted that no new national election legislation is necessary, and there is no expectation in the Democratic ranks that next week’s vote will succeed in advancing the bill.”
  • “Voting rights advocates and many Democrats are hoping the sustained GOP opposition will create a put-up-or-shut-up moment for Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who have both vocally opposed changing the Senate rules to allow legislation to pass with a simple majority vote.”

Employment gap between men and women, visualized

Of the women who lost jobs in 2020, almost 90 percent exited the labor force completely, compared with around 70 percent of men. The Post analyzed available data and focused on three countries that offered revealing case studies: Peru, Thailand and France.

Hot on the left

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) went to the Met Gala, New York's swankiest event, with a dress that read “Tax the rich." “Critics duly disparaged the move as both hypocritical and tone deaf,” the Guardian reports. “The New York congresswoman, a leading House progressive, was happy to set the record straight. ‘The medium is the message,’ Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Instagram.” The dress was designed by Aurora James, a Black and immigrant creative director who founded the luxury brand Brother Vellies. 

Hot on the right

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is toeing a delicate line. During a press conference announcing new measures to punish any city or county in the state that requires public employees to receive a vaccine, DeSantis “stood beside a man who claimed the vaccine ‘changes your RNA,’ a completely false anti-vaxx talking point. You could tell DeSantis knew this immediately. As soon as the line was uttered, he looked down at the ground, then nervously thrust his left hand into his pocket,” New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait reports. “After this uncomfortable moment, DeSantis still had a choice. He had a turn to speak afterward, and could have explicitly denounced the dangerous, paranoid nonsense that had just been circulated with his imprimatur. But to do so would have been to alienate a crucial constituency.”

Today in Washington

Biden will deliver remarks at a renewable energy laboratory in Colorado at 3:30 p.m. 

Harris will deliver remarks at a fundraiser for Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for Virginia governor at 7:30 p.m. 

In closing

A roadrunner stopped at Trump’s border wall in the Arizona desert. Photographer Alejandro Prieto snapped an award-winning image. Prieto, who’d spent nearly 16 months camped out near the wall documenting the barricade’s effects on animals, said he was taken aback by the bird’s gaze as it stared at the tall barbed-wire-covered wall that cut through the desert, Gina Harkins reports

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.