POLITICO Playbook: Will the delta variant derail Biden’s agenda?

POLITICO Playbook: Will the delta variant derail Biden’s agenda?


Good Sunday morning from Nantucket, where the hydrangeas are in full bloom and the town seems to be back to life after a sleepy, Covid-wracked summer last year.

NEWS: Speaker NANCY PELOSI said on ABC’s “This Week” this morning that she’s planning to name Rep. ADAM KINZINGER (R-Ill.) to the Jan. 6 select committee once she’s spoken with him. “I’m not about to announce it right this minute, but you could say that that is the direction I would be going,” Pelosi said. “He and other Republicans have expressed an interest to serve on the select committee.”

WILL THE NEW OUTBREAK of Covid-19’s delta variant derail President JOE BIDEN’s policy agenda? That’s the worry at the White House right now.

Top administration officials “are growing increasingly anxious about the state of the pandemic and are gravely concerned about the situation spiraling out of control in some areas of the country with low vaccination rates,” report WaPo’s Annie Linskey, Tyler Pager and Dan Diamond. One projection causing particular concern shows the U.S. facing more than 200,000 new cases per day in the fall, and daily deaths increasing by 300% by October.

But the White House is also concerned about what this all could mean for Biden’s domestic agenda — infrastructure, voting rights, police reform, gun legislation, etc. — and his message.

From a political standpoint, the question is basically this: Should Biden talk about the coronavirus a whole lot more than he already does, or should he broaden his message beyond that?

— The case for a broader message is pretty straightforward: Biden gets consistently high marks for his handling of the pandemic, but voters — even those supportive of Biden — tend not to have a strong sense of what exactly he’s accomplished aside from that. Talking about infrastructure or jobs, the thinking goes, resonates in voters’ lives and is smart politics. It’s basically Washington conventional wisdom.

— But what if the C.W. is wrong? Is the smarter political play to focus more on the pandemic? “If anything, when Covid is not on the agenda — when people are not focused on Covid — his numbers tend to settle a little bit because people think, ‘Who would be better on the next thing?’” Democratic pollster CELINDA LAKE told the Post. And presidential historian DOUGLAS BRINKLEY said that the focus on non-Covid issues, like infrastructure, resulted in “a false sense of security” about the pandemic that history will not look kindly upon. “People will think in history that Biden needed to be doing regular addresses to the American public,” Brinkley said. “That this was such a large emergency, with so many deaths on the line, that he needed to be beating the drum more forcefully.”

Delta variant news from around the country“Florida Leads U.S. in Covid-19 Cases as Hospitalizations Surge,” WSJ … “In Alabama and Louisiana, partisan opposition to vaccine surges alongside Delta variant,” by Erin Banco in Sheffield, Ala. … “L.A. County reports more than 2,600 new daily coronavirus cases, continuing surge,” L.A. Times … “Michigan Covid-19 infections double in 2 weeks,” AP … “Missouri case positivity rate 14.8%, highest since Christmas,” KMBC … “St. Louis and L.A. now require masks indoors. With cases rising, will other cities follow suit?” WaPo … Meanwhile, a piece of good news: “New York records only one COVID death for second straight day,” N.Y. Post

— Even Dolly struggles to push the vax: “Not swayed by experts — or Dolly: Tennessee vaccination rates stall as delta spreads,” NBC … Listen: “Vaccine”

— Interesting pro-vax op-ed from SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: “The reasoning behind getting vaccinated,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

TRUMP ON THE STUMP IN PHOENIX TAKES AIM AT DUCEY — At a DONALD TRUMP rally in Arizona on Saturday, the usual suspects — MITCH MCCONNELL, MIKE PENCE, BRETT KAVANAUGH, etc. — got a tongue-lashing from the former president. But this time, Trump took special aim at Arizona’s Republican Gov. DOUG DUCEY.

Senate Republicans are eager to convince Ducey to run against Democratic incumbent MARK KELLY next year. But Trump threw cold water on that idea. “He’s not getting my endorsement, I can tell you,” Trump told the crowd. (Backstory: Ducey ignored a phone call from Trump after the 2020 election and certified his state’s results for Biden.)

Trump also called on Arizona’s Republican A.G. MARK BRNOVICH to “act on the information gathered by the ballot review,” and repeated the false claim that he won Arizona and would be vindicated after a recount, according to the Arizona Republic.

— More from the L.A. Times’ Janet Hook on how Trump is shaping the GOP in his own image in primaries, with updates on the critical races in Wyoming, Alaska, Georgia and Arizona: “Mar-a-Lago primary: Trump wields power with endorsements”

Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

SUNDAY BEST …

— Rep. JIM BANKS (R-Ind.) on getting vetoed by Pelosi for the Jan. 6 select committee, on “Fox News Sunday”: “She’s already predetermined a narrative about Donald Trump, about Republicans. She doesn’t want to talk about what happened at the Capitol that day to make sure something like that never happens again.”

— Sen. ROB PORTMAN (R-Ohio) on where the infrastructure deal stands, on “This Week”: “We’re about 90% of the way there. I’m here this weekend working on legislative language with colleagues and with staff, and I feel good about getting that done this week. We have one issue outstanding, and we’re not getting much response from the Democrats on it. It’s about mass transit. Our transit number is very generous. We increased transit in this proposal. We also increased the formula going forward. That’s the one issue that’s outstanding, frankly, at this point. My hope is that we’ll see progress on that yet today.”

— Sen. PAT TOOMEY (R-Pa.) on transit funding, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “It’s an incredible amount of money, so much that they can’t spend what they have now. They have been offered many tens of billions more. And they’re saying that’s not enough. Nobody’s talking about cutting transit. The question is, how many tens of billions of dollars on top of the huge increase that they have already gotten is sufficient? And that’s where there is a little disagreement.”

— Sen. MARK WARNER (D-Va.) on “Fox News Sunday” said he thought the bill would be ready by Monday.

— Warner on the filibuster: “I don’t want the Senate to become like the House. But I do believe when it comes to voting rights, when it comes to that basic right to exercise and participate in democracy, I get very worried what’s happening in some of these states … If we have to do a small carve-out on filibuster for voting rights, that is the only area where I’d allow that kind of reform.”

— Sen. TIM SCOTT (R-S.C.) on the prospects for police reform on “Fox News Sunday”: “There is hope for the bill, without any question. We worked on it yesterday, we’ll have another conversation today, we’ll be meeting tomorrow. I’ll be talking with law enforcement leaders tomorrow as well. The one thing you cannot do in police reform is leave the impression that somehow we’re going to demonize police officers. That is, dead stop, not going to happen, can’t happen.”

BIDEN’S SUNDAY: The president will depart Wilmington, Del., at 4 p.m. to return to the White House, where he is scheduled to arrive at 4:55 p.m.

KAMALA HARRIS’ SUNDAY: The VP has nothing on her public schedule.

THE WHITE HOUSE

A TRUSTBUSTING EXERCISE — Now that Biden has assembled progressives’ antitrust “dream team” — that is, LINA KHAN as head of the Federal Trade Commission, TIM WU as special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy and JONATHAN KANTER as head of the DOJ’s antitrust division — the NYT’s Jim Tankersley and Cecilia Kang are out with a wide-angle view of what it means — and, crucially, what it does not.

“The appointments … underscore that Mr. Biden is willing to use the power of his office and not wait for the tougher grind of congressional action, an approach that is both faster and potentially riskier. … Outside groups and ideological allies of the administration warn that if Mr. Biden hopes to truly follow in the footsteps of his antitrust idols, Presidents THEODORE ROOSEVELT and FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, he will need to push for sweeping legislation to grant new powers to federal regulators, particularly in the tech sector. The core federal antitrust laws, which were written more than a century ago, did not envision the kind of commerce that exists today, where big companies may offer customers low prices but at the expense of competition.”

VP CORNER — “Kamala Harris is the highest-ranking mom ever in U.S. politics. Here’s why that matters,” by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Tal Kopan: “Tucked into the repeated parables Harris tells is a revolutionary narrative out of the White House: That parenthood, and in particular motherhood, is not just an individual challenge, but a societal one that needs and deserves an infrastructure around it to succeed.

“Speaking with The Chronicle, Harris said she tells her stories very purposefully and that she was profoundly shaped by watching her divorced mom balancing children and career. … Experts say this is one of the subtle but powerful ways that Harris is changing politics by virtue of being the first person like her in her position — including the first mother elected on a presidential ticket.”

INFRASTRUCTURE YEAR

STATE OF PLAY — “Senators Scramble to Finalize Deal on Infrastructure Package,” by WSJ’s Kristina Peterson and Andrew Duehren: “Lawmakers pushed to finalize an infrastructure agreement Sunday and lock down enough support from Republicans to advance the bill in a Senate vote early this week. … Both sides were haggling over final sticking points entering the weekend. …

“Lawmakers said negotiations over how to finance the infrastructure package had largely wrapped up, with aides adding that staff were still working on details. The group removed a source of revenue disliked by Republicans that would beef up the Internal Revenue Service’s collection of unpaid taxes. Instead, to generate budget savings, lawmakers are expected to delay a Trump-era proposal that could result in more-expensive Medicare prescription-drug plans.”

CONGRESS

BERN-ING UP — “Bernie Sanders Embraces Deal Maker Role in Biden’s Antipoverty Push,” by WSJ’s Eliza Collins: “The self-described Democratic socialist has tempered some of his progressive policy demands to team with the Biden administration on Democrats’ sprawling antipoverty and climate plan. At the same time, he has helped pull Democrats leftward on healthcare and other issues he calls critical to working people, a shift Republicans say will be a boon to the GOP as they try to reclaim control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.

“The biggest test comes this fall. With Mr. Sanders’s input as budget chairman, Democratic leaders are working to pass a $3.5 trillion plan that would expand Medicare and finance cleaner power. The legislation is also expected to attempt to provide a path to citizenship for some immigrants and fund expanded child care, paid family leave and affordable housing.”

HOUSE DEMS SEETHE ABOUT SENATE — “House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate,” by The Hill’s Cristina Marcos: “The sense of feeling ignored by the Senate is making House Democrats, particularly progressives, grow ever more exasperated with the bipartisan talks that continue to drag on after a group of senators agreed on an initial framework with the White House a month ago. And more broadly, it’s making Democrats feel like their flurry of legislative activity in the last six months has been futile. …

[House Majority Leader STENY] HOYER added that it’s not just the lawmakers passing bills who are weary of the Senate becoming what he described as ‘the graveyard for all ideas and legislation that a minority believes is not supportable.’ ‘I think it undermines people’s faith in democracy, undermines the people’s belief that their will can be manifested by their representatives in the House and in the Senate,’ Hoyer said.”

ON THE LOOKOUT — “Beware of budget gimmicks in push for massive spending deals,” by AP’s Alan Fram

PANDEMIC

BAD TIMING — “States scale back virus reporting just as cases surge,” by AP’s Josh Funk: “The shift to weekly instead of daily reporting in Florida, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota marked a notable shift during a pandemic in which coronavirus dashboards have become a staple for Americans closely tracking case counts and trends to navigate a crisis that has killed more than 600,000 people in the U.S. …

“When Florida changed the frequency of its virus reporting earlier this month, officials said it made sense given the decreasing number of cases and the increasing number of people being vaccinated.

“Cases started soaring soon after, and Florida earlier this week made up one-fifth of the country’s new coronavirus infections. As a result, Florida’s weekly releases — typically done on Friday afternoons — have consequences for the country’s understanding of the current summer surge, with no statewide Covid stats coming out of the virus hotspot for six days a week.”

POLITICS ROUNDUP

YOUR MONTHLY ‘FLORIDA DEMS FRUSTRATED’ STORY — “Florida Democrats anxious over stalled Miami congressional races,” by Matt Dixon in Tallahassee: “Then-Democratic Reps. DONNA SHALALA and DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL lost the seats in surprise upsets in 2020. Democrats now see both races as winnable … But some Florida Democrats are blaming the poor recruitment drive on the party, which they say isn’t doing enough to recruit and assist strong candidates — a sign of larger problems in the nation’s biggest swing state.

“At the same time, Shalala is watching how the state’s redistricting process plays out before deciding whether to run agai… The unsettled field has left Florida Democrats anxious that two potential opportunities are slipping away from them … Republicans have registered more voters than Democrats in the country for four consecutive months ending in May.”

ALL EYES ON TEXAS — “Trump’s impact on the line in Texas special election,” by Marissa Martinez: “Trump backed SUSAN WRIGHT — the widow of the late Rep. RON WRIGHT, who died of complications from Covid-19 — just before the May 1 special primary … But Wright, who has also gotten the nod from Sen. TED CRUZ and local politicians, is still facing a fight from fellow Republican JAKE ELLZEY, a state representative with support from former Gov. RICK PERRY and a handful of other prominent Texans.

“Trump’s endorsement may be one of the most valuable things in Republican politics, but Ellzey has been able to outspend Wright in the race, bringing in over $1.2 million to Wright’s $454,000 as of July 7. And while Wright has led Ellzey in several internal polls released by her campaign, uncertainty over exactly who will vote in a summer special election featuring two Republicans with similar ideological leanings means Ellzey can still hope for an upset come Tuesday.”

LURIA FACES THE HEAT — “Rep. Luria’s pro-Navy, centrist identity may get Jan. 6 test,” by AP’s Will Weissert: “When members of Congress head home to connect with their constituents, some hit tractor pulls. Others might stop by mom-and-pop stores. For Democratic Rep. ELAINE LURIA, whose Virginia district includes the world’s largest naval base, a recent swing included boarding an amphibious assault ship for a NATO ceremony and a speech by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Luria’s next round of tough queries will concern a topic that is potentially even more sensitive for the military: why veterans were disproportionately involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection. A 20-year naval veteran and nuclear-trained surface warfare officer who commanded 400 crewmembers in the Persian Gulf, Luria is joining Pelosi’s special committee to investigate the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

FUNNY HOW THAT WORKS — “Cuomo said AG probe would clear him. Now his aides say it’s political,” by Anna Gronewold in Albany: “New York Gov. ANDREW CUOMO, facing a cascade of misconduct claims earlier this year, dashed off a letter in March directing state Attorney General TISH JAMES to investigate the scandals that were threatening to end his career. When James is done with her work, Cuomo assured the public, everyone will see he had done nothing wrong. …

“James and the outside attorneys she hired to conduct the work appear close to wrapping up the inquiry … But Cuomo’s top aides no longer seem convinced James will deliver the findings their boss had promised and staked his future on. In recent days and weeks, the governor’s communications team has sprinkled comments about any investigation-related news with assertions that James … is using the probe to launch her own run for governor next year.”

JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH

SOUNDS BRUTAL — “Heavy Metal Guitarist-Turned-Capitol Rioter Has Feces Thrown at Him in Jail,” by The Daily Beast’s Corbin Bolies

MEDIAWATCH

REFLECTION UPON INFECTION — “Hospitalized with Covid, a conservative Tennessee radio host, shifts his message to urge vaccinations,” by NYT’s Jesus Jiménez

YIKES — “Man Confronts Tucker Carlson At Montana Store: ‘You Are The Worst Human Being,’” by HuffPost’s Sara Boboltz: “When a local fly fishing guide spotted noted vaccine skeptic TUCKER CARLSON at a sporting goods store in Livingston, Montana, he did not waste time. ‘You are the worst human being known to mankind. I want you to know that,’ DAN BAILEY can be heard telling the Fox News host in a video posted to his Instagram page Friday night. …

“Much of the brief conversation … is difficult to make out. Carlson, in a plaid button-down and a gold watch, can be seen holding his hand up against Bailey’s chest, making his trademark exaggerated facial expressions. He appears to grimace, and then, realizing he is being filmed, spreads his mouth into a grin and turns away.”

IN MEMORIAM — “James Polk, Pulitzer winner for Watergate reporting, dies at 83,” by WaPo’s Matt Schudel: “Polk, a journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his reporting on the Watergate scandal for the old Washington Star, and who later worked with NBC News and CNN, died July 15 … Mr. Polk spent only two years with the Star, then called the Washington Star-News, but in that time he uncovered financial irregularities concerning the reelection campaign of President Richard M. Nixon, including a secret contribution from a shady financier, delivered in a briefcase.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) … Alex Nguyen of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office … Liz Benjamin of Marathon Strategies … Andrew Feldman of Feldman Strategies … Kirsten Sutton … USAID’s Alison HardingChristine Quinn of Win … Judy KeenSarah Benzing of Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) office … Susan Goodwin … Fox News’ Kelly Laco, Alex Pfeiffer and Katy Ricalde … The Lukens Company’s Christian Hulen … Bloomberg’s Mike Nizza … The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum and Caroline Black Fanning Liz Brown of Rep. Kathy Castor’s (D-Fla.) office … Clio Grillakis of the Ex-Im Bank … Robert ZoellickBrad KarpAmy HolmesMark McLaughlinScot DaviesRebecca Gale … POLITICO’s Elise Dean … HuffPost’s Jesselyn CookSusan D. Ball … NRCC’s Ella Gunn (21) … Katie Martin

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected]. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.



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