All of a sudden, it appears that the Democrats’ two-bill strategy to pass as much of their agenda as possible is … working as planned? Lots of caveats apply, nothing is agreed to until everything is, and the whole thing could still come apart.
But Senate Democrats are talking about reaching a deal this week, with Bernie Sanders meeting with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and no apparent deal-breakers identified at this point. That’s only the Senate, of course, but all along it’s been hard to believe that House Democrats would reject anything that Sanders and Manchin both supported.
Let’s take a step back. What was always hard about this approach was that the party’s agenda was ambitious and the gap between the most and least liberal Democrats was large. That meant that all wings of the party, and especially the most liberal group, were going to have to give up a lot of things they strongly cared about.
The size of the bill also meant that there were going to be a lot of potential landmines, some of them buried deep in the text. Those could still blow things up; all that Senate Democrats are hoping to get done this week is an overall agreement (a “framework”), with the details to be filled in later — leaving room for someone to object once a final deal is reached. And as always, there’s almost no room for error given the party’s narrow majorities.
But two big factors suggest eventual passage is likely.
For one, in contrast with the bipartisan infrastructure deal that passed the Senate in August, everyone negotiating this bill is a Democrat. And given the way elections work these days, with presidential popularity more important to a lawmaker’s re-election than his or her own popularity, all those Democrats have a stake in making President Joe Biden look good.
The other thing? The two bills address issues — such as health care, climate, child care and so on — that Democrats have compromised on numerous times in the past. Seriously: Does anyone think that New York and New Jersey Democrats will ultimately vote against the entire Democratic agenda if relief for state and local taxes isn’t included? Sure, that’s what they’re saying now. And sure, they’ll fight for their districts’ interests. But surely when push comes to shove they’ll accept commitments for the future or some other verbiage from leadership. After all, their districts will benefit from items in both bills, even if they don’t get exactly what they want.
It’s even possible that the public focus on the total cost of the bill, which everyone seems to agree was a communications nightmare, is playing a helpful role. If there’s one thing that legislators can do, it’s find a compromise between two numbers; that’s a lot easier than haggling over the programs generating the numbers. Meanwhile, since almost no one knows what’s supposed to have been in the bills, Democrats can start talking up whatever they pass, rather than making excuses for what they didn’t.
Again: There’s no agreement yet; all they’re working on is a framework, not the full legislative language with all the details; and things could easily still collapse. But I’ve been saying for a while that the eventual outcome to these negotiations is a complete unknown, and I don’t think that’s the case any more.
Now the most likely outcome is that both bills pass and are signed into law. If that happens, the total size is going to be a lot lower than originally proposed, and a lot of Democratic priorities won’t be included, but it would still cap off an impressive legislative start to Biden’s presidency.
Biden At Vatican To Talk Climate, Poverty With Pope Francis
The president takes pride in his Catholic faith, using it as moral guidepost to shape many of his social and economic policies. Biden wears a rosary and frequently attends Mass, yet his support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage has put him at odds with many U.S. bishops, some of whom have suggested he should be denied Communion.
Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived at the Vatican in an unusually long motorcade of more than 80 vehicles, owing in part to Italian COVID-19 restrictions on the number of people sharing a car.
A dozen Swiss Guards in their blue and gold striped uniforms and red-plumed halberds stood at attention in the San Damaso courtyard awaiting Biden’s arrival. Biden was being received by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal household, and then greeted one by one the papal ushers, or the papal gentlemen, who lined up in the courtyard.
“It’s good to be back,” Biden said as he shook the hand of one of them. “I’m Jill’s husband,” he said to another, before being escorted into the frescoed Apostolic Palace and taken upstairs to the pope’s private library.
No live pictures or video of the meeting was expected, due to last-minute Vatican restrictions no press access.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in previewing the visit, said she expected a “warm and constructive dialogue” between the two leaders.
“There’s a great deal of agreement and overlap with the president and Pope Francis on a range of issues: poverty, combating the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” Psaki said. “These are all hugely important, impactful issues that will be the centerpiece of what their discussion is when they meet.”
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president and pontiff would meet privately, then hold talks with expanded delegations. Biden is visiting Rome and then Glasgow, Scotland, for back-to-back summits, first a gathering for leaders of Group of 20 leading and developing nations and then a global climate conference.
As only the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy, Biden has made his audience with the pope a clear priority. It will be his first scheduled meeting on a five-day trip abroad and his wife, Jill, will also attend. Biden and Francis have previously met three times but Friday’s encounter will be their first since Biden became president this year.
Following the papal meeting, Biden will meet separately Friday with Group of 20 summit hosts Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He will end the day by meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, part of an effort to mend relations with France after the U.S. and U.K. decided to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, scotching an existing French contract.
Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis generated some controversy in advance as the Vatican on Thursday abruptly canceled plans to broadcast the meeting with Biden live and denied press access. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised television plan reflected the virus protocol for all heads of state audiences, though he didn’t say why more robust live TV coverage had been initially scheduled and then canceled.
There will be no live broadcast or independent photographs of Biden greeting Francis in the palace Throne Room, nor live footage of the two leaders sitting down to begin their conversation in Francis’ library.
The Vatican said it would provide edited footage of the encounter after the fact to accredited media.
A live broadcast was particularly important because the Vatican has barred independent photographers and journalists from papal audiences with leaders since early 2020 due to the coronavirus, even though external news media are allowed into other papal events.
That decision comes as U.S. bishops are scheduled to meet in roughly three weeks in Baltimore for their annual fall convention. Among the agenda items for that convention is an effort by conservatives to disqualify Biden from receiving Communion. Any document emerging from the event is unlikely to single out the president by name, but he still could face some form of rebuke.
Francis has stressed that he will not reject political leaders who support abortion rights, though Catholic policy allows individual bishops to choose whether to prevent people from taking Communion.
On the eve of Biden’s visit, a leading U.S. conservative cardinal and Francis critic, Cardinal Raymond Burke, penned an impassioned plea for U.S. bishops to deny Catholic politicians Communion if they support abortion rights legislation.
Burke didn’t cite Biden by name, but said such Catholic politicians were causing grave scandal to the faithful since church law says someone who is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” should not be admitted to Communion.
Catholic politicians who support abortion rights “have, in fact, contributed in a significant way to the consolidation of a culture of death in the United States, in which procured abortion is simply a fact of daily life,” Burke wrote.
Over the years, Vatican meetings between presidents and popes have had their share of awkward moments.
President Ronald Reagan had trouble keeping his eyes open on his first visit to the Vatican in 1982. When George W. Bush met with Pope Benedict XVI, his overly casual behavior was noted by many Italians and Vatican watchers as he addressed the pope as “sir,” rather than the customary “your holiness,” and as he leaned far back in his chair. When Donald Trump met in 2017 with Francis, with whom the president had a prickly relationship, photos showed a stone-faced Francis standing next to a grinning Trump.
President Biden has long cast his faith as a cornerstone of his identity, writing in his 2007 memoir “Promises to Keep” that Catholicism gave him a sense “of self, of family, of community, of the wider world.” He admits to becoming angry with God after the death of his first wife and baby daughter in a 1972 traffic accident, but Biden said he never doubted God’s existence.
In a 2007 interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Biden said he believes his faith is universal enough to accept those with differing viewpoints.
“My views are totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine,” Biden said. “There are elements within the church who say that if you are at odds with any of the teachings of the church, you are at odds with the church. I think the church is bigger than that.”
By JOSH BOAK,
Record 1.7 Million Migrants Arrested At U.S.-Mexico Border
U.S. authorities arrested 1.7 million migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year, the most ever recorded, according to a U.S. government source, underscoring the stark political and humanitarian challenges the Biden administration faces on immigration.
The Washington Post reported that current numbers for the 2021 fiscal year, which began last October, topped a previous high in 2000.
Adding to concerns was an influx of thousands of mostly Haitian migrants last month who crossed the Rio Grande River from Mexico and set up a makeshift camp under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
President Joe Biden, who took office in January, reversed many of the hard-line immigration policies of his Republican predecessor, President Donald Trump, promising a more “humane” approach to immigration policy.
Democrats and immigration advocates have slammed Biden for his swift expulsions of many of those migrants back to Haiti, a country that has been devastated by violence, political crises and natural disasters.
The administration also launched an investigation into the tactics of border patrol agents on horseback photographed and filmed in Del Rio trying to push back Haitian migrants along the river bank.
Many of the Haitians were returned under one sweeping Trump policy that Biden has kept in place. Known as Title 42, it was implemented in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to curb infections and allows most migrants to be quickly expelled without a chance to seek asylum.
Many of the arrests this fiscal year were repeat crossings, with some people expelled to Mexico turning around and trying again.
A federal court has also ordered the Biden administration to reinstate another Trump-era policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forced thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings. The administration said it is taking steps to restart the program in November, pending agreement from Mexico.
White House Details Plans to Vaccinate 28M Children Age 5-11
Children ages 5 to 11 will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot at their pediatrician’s office, local pharmacy and potentially even their school, the White House said Wednesday as it detailed plans Vaccinate for the expected authorization of the Pfizer shot for elementary school youngsters in a matter of weeks.
Federal regulators will meet over the next two weeks to weigh the safety and effectiveness of giving low-dose shots to the roughly 28 million children in that age group.
Within hours of formal approval, which is expected after the Food and Drug Administration signs off and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel meets on Nov. 2-3, millions of doses will begin going out to providers across the country, along with the smaller needles needed for injecting young children.
Within days of that, the vaccine will be ready to go into arms on a wide scale.
“We’re completing the operational planning to ensure vaccinations for kids ages 5 to 11 are available, easy and convenient,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said. “We’re going to be ready, pending the FDA and CDC decision.”
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart and a two-week wait for full protection to kick in, meaning the first youngsters in line will be fully covered by Christmas.
Some parents can hardly wait.
Dr. Sterling Ransone said his rural Deltaville, Virginia, office is already getting calls from people asking for appointments for their children and saying, “I want my shot now.”
“Judging by the number of calls, I think we’re going to be slammed for the first several weeks,” said Ransone, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Justin Shady, a film and TV writer in Chicago, said his 6-year-old daughter, Grey, got nervous when he told her she would be getting the shots soon. But he is bribing her with a trip to Disney World, and “she’s all in.”
The family likes to travel, “we really just want to get back in the swing of seeing the world,” Shady said.
As for youngsters under 5, Pfizer and Moderna are studying their vaccines in children down to 6 months old, with results expected later in the year.
The Biden administration noted that the expansion of shots to children under 12 will not look like the start of the country’s vaccine rollout 10 months ago, when limited doses and inadequate capacity meant a painstaking wait for many Americans.
The country now has ample supplies of the Pfizer shot to vaccinate the children who will soon be eligible, officials said, and they have been working for months to ensure widespread availability of shots. About 15 million doses will be shipped to providers across the U.S. in the first week after approval, the White House said.
More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers have already signed on to dispense the vaccine to elementary school children, the White House said, in addition to the tens of thousands of drugstores that are already administering shots to adults.
Hundreds of school- and community-based clinics will also be funded and supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help speed the process.
In addition to doctors’ offices, schools are likely be popular spots for the shots.
In Maryland, state officials have offered to help schools set up vaccination clinics. Denver’s public schools plan to hold mass vaccination events for young children, along with smaller clinics offering shots during the school day and in the evenings. Chicago’s public health department is working closely with schools, which have already been hosting vaccination events for students age 12 and older and their families.
The White House is also preparing a stepped-up campaign to educate parents and children about the safety of the shots and the ease of getting them. As has been the case for adult vaccinations, the administration believes trusted messengers — educators, doctors and community leaders — will be vital to encouraging vaccinations.
Dr. Lisa Reed, medical director for family medicine at MAHEC, a western North Carolina safety net provider that serves patients from rural Appalachia and more urban communities such as the tourist town of Asheville, said it is going to take effort to get some families on board.
Reed said she lives “in a community that has a lot of vaccine hesitancy, unfortunately.”
“Some have lower health literacy or belong to ethnic groups that are more hesitant in general” because of a history of mistrust, she said. And Asheville, she said, has a sizeable population of well-educated adults who are longtime vaccine skeptics.
While children run a lower risk than older people of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, at least 637 people age 18 or under have died from the virus in the U.S., according to the CDC. Six million U.S. children been infected, 1 million of them since early September amid the spread of the more contagious delta variant, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Health officials believe that expanding the vaccine drive will not only curb the alarming number of infections in children but also reduce the spread of the virus to vulnerable adults. It could also help schools stay open and youngsters get back on track academically, and contribute to the nation’s broader recovery from the pandemic.
“COVID has also disrupted our kids’ lives. It’s made school harder, it’s disrupted their ability to see friends and family, it’s made youth sports more challenging,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told NBC. “Getting our kids vaccinated, we have the prospect of protecting them, but also getting all of those activities back that are so important to our children.”
Murthy said the administration, which is imposing vaccine mandates for millions of adults, is leaving it up to state and local officials to decide whether to require schoolchildren to get vaccinated. But he said such measures would be “a reasonable thing to consider.”
“It’s also consistent with what we’ve done for other childhood vaccines, like measles, mumps, polio,” he said.
The U.S. has purchased 65 million doses of the Pfizer pediatric shot, which is expected to be one-third the dose given to adults and adolescents, according to officials. They will be shipped in smaller packages of about 100 doses each, so that more providers can deliver them, and they won’t require the super-cold storage that the adult version did at first.
About 219 million Americans age 12 and up, or 66% of the total population, have received a COVID-19 shot, and nearly 190 million are fully vaccinated.
Tanner reported from Three Oaks, Michigan.
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