Welcome to your weekly run-down of all the big news, strange rules and interesting happenings from the world of US politics.
Joe Biden campaigned on making politics boring, and since taking office, he’s been called boring by everyone from Donald Trump to his top White House staffers (yes, even by us, too).
Just last week The New York Times published a widely shared analysis of how “mind-numbingly tedious” the “explainer-in-chief” can be.
So this week it was bracing, like stepping out into a stiff winter breeze, to see the President answer a question about vaccine misinformation spreading on social media like this:
With less than 20 seconds of comment, Biden had kicked over a hornets’ nest in the same way his predecessor used to do, daily.
Facebook pushed back in a blog post titled Moving Past the Finger Pointing, detailing its efforts to encourage Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Long-time tech-watchers pointed out Facebook wasn’t exactly an innocent bystander that copped a Biden broadside.
Yet a few days later, Biden had returned to his usual approach, walking back the sharper edges of his criticism and once again playing “explainer-in-chief”.
But, if his predecessor taught us anything, it’s that it’s hard to take back a soundbite.
“Facebook is killing people” is still a mainstay on US cable chyrons.
Why did Biden pick a fight with one of the world’s biggest tech platforms, right as America is supposed to be forgetting about squabbles in Washington and enjoying a “hot vax summer“?
It wasn’t just that tech billionaires are in the bad books on Capitol Hill this week for shooting themselves into space in curiously shaped, super-pricey rockets.
After a pretty smooth first six months in the job, the Biden administration is running into big problems on its biggest promise — the campaign to vaccinate 300 million citizens against the coronavirus.
As it stands, at least 68 per cent of Americans aged 18 and over have had at least one dose and at least 59 per cent are fully vaccinated.
But the initial vaccine surge — peaking at more than 4 million a day in March and April — is gone. Right now, only 500,000 doses are administered per day.
The problem is not vaccine supply; the US is swimming in it. Between Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, shots are available to everyone age 12 and up.
After missing a self-imposed target of getting at least 70 per cent of Americans one shot by July 4, the Biden administration has acknowledged there are no more easy wins when it comes to new injections.
The problem is a complex one, but the President has put a spotlight on a March report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate that found just 12 people are responsible for 73 per cent of all anti-vaccine content on Facebook.
The White House wants the social media giant to do more to fight it.
But increasing vaccination rates is going to take a lot more than silencing a dozen Facebook users.
“States that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 have almost uniformly seen lower densities of vaccinations than states that voted for Biden,” a Washington Post-ABC News poll found.
CNN later reported that the White House has been having conversations with America’s biggest cable network about its COVID-19 coverage, which came a bit as a shock to newsreaders who are familiar with Fox’s oppositional stances.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the White House understood “the importance of reaching Fox News’ audience about the COVID-19 vaccines and their benefits” and confirmed the two were “in regular contact”.
In praising Fox News for their efforts (while speaking to a CNN audience), Biden said there was “nothing political” about vaccinations.
The cliche of “America is divided” was overused to describe the 2020 election, but it’s coming back into fashion in 2021 to describe a very different division — between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
Daily coronavirus case numbers cratered in early summer, but they’re rising in all 50 states again thanks to the same Delta variant of the virus that is already wreaking havoc in Australia’s biggest cities.
“Hot vax summer” is giving way to another phrase as a seasonal change is suddenly approaching — “a pandemic of the unvaccinated“.
And Biden has bet that he’ll need a team of unlikely allies — from tech bosses to conservative cable networks — to stop another “dark winter” from arriving in America.
It’s still 2020
The back-and-forth over congressional efforts to examine (and shape for posterity) the January 6 attacks on Capitol Hill continued this week.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi five names of Republicans he had selected to sit on a House select committee that would investigate the attacks.
Pelosi promptly gave a thumbs down to two of them — Representatives Jim Jordan and Jim Banks — on the grounds that both are close allies of Trump and had objected to the certification of the results of the election.
In response to that move, McCarthy pulled all the Republicans from the committee and said Pelosi had “broken this institution”. It leaves only a single Republican, former leadership figure Liz Cheney, on the committee. Republican sources told CNN that’s exactly how they want it, calling Pelosi’s move a “gift”.
Basically, the kind of bickering a bipartisan commission was supposed to avoid.
Next week, the committee will hold its first hearing on Wednesday AEST. Capitol Hill and Metropolitan police officers will detail their experiences from the day.
In their own words
American Football returned to the White House this week, when Biden welcomed Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a visit.
All the cheese you’d expect was there; this is one of the perks of being President after all.
Biden joked about being an old guy at the top (the Buccaneers had the oldest coach and quarterback to win a Super Bowl) and he got a special jersey.
But football superstar Tom Brady delivered the joke that had observers spitting out their summer lemonade:
It surely cut a little deep down in Mar-A-Lago, given Brady had previously called Trump a friend and a golfing partner, and the former president didn’t have a great time with Super Bowl winning teams.
Trump uninvited the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018 over players who kneeled during the national anthem, the 2019 New England Patriots said “scheduling conflicts” meant they had to skip the trip, and in 2020 the Kansas City Chiefs said the coronavirus pandemic stopped their trip.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Trump did host the Clemson University Football Team in 2019, and famously treated them to a banquet of fast food because a government shutdown left the White House without chefs.
It’s worth prefacing this next part by saying it is July 2021, and there are still 1,201 days until the next US presidential election. It’s a LONG way away.
Ok, we’ve got that? Good.
This week Rolling Stone reported that Donald Trump has been telling people over dinner that he plans to run for president again in 2024.
It’s some of the firmest reporting of the president’s intentions beyond the wink-wink-nudge-nudge game he plays with the audience at most public appearances. But it’s still just unnamed sources.
The reason we bring it to your attention is to explain why Trump might be letting the “secret” out more than 1,000 days away from the next election.
Remember, Trump is the de facto leader of the Republican Party right now because a majority of Republicans want him to run in 2024.
That status not only grants him the power to influence Republican primary races but also an ability to raise money, and lots of it.
According to Open Secrets, he has ten times more campaign cash on hand than he did four years ago.
As experienced Washington observers noted this week, there are plenty of benefits for Trump to let on that he’s running, and lots of disadvantages to ruling himself out of the conversation.
Keep that in mind when you read the 47th “TRUMP’S RUNNING” story in 2022.