States and cities are trying to get ahead of an anticipated autumn and winter surge in COVID-19 infections with entreaties to the public to roll up their sleeves for the newest booster doses targeting the most infectious omicron spinoffs that are now in wide circulation.
Modified COVID-19 boosters developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, approved by the government last month, are designed to fortify immune responses against the BA.4 and BA.5 strains while remaining effective against the original coronavirus, according to scientists.
The Food and Drug Administration says the newest jabs are advised at least two months after getting the most recent booster or primary vaccination. The FDA approved Pfizer’s updated booster for anyone 12 and older and Moderna’s version of the booster shot for anyone 18 and older. The newest doses are expected to reach health departments, pharmacies and stores beginning this week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises those who have contracted COVID-19 to consider waiting three months after testing negative before getting a tailored booster dose.
▪ CNBC: Where to find the new omicron-specific COVID-19 boosters, from Walgreens and CVS to local pharmacies and clinics.
▪ The Hill: The White House stresses a need for additional COVID response funds from Congress as federal appropriations run low.
▪ NBC News: New boosters look a lot like the old ones. Doctors worry that could lead to errors.
Many governors and public health officials throughout the country are working to spread the message about boosters (both the new and older versions) because they are still not widely embraced. To date, just 32 percent of the U.S. population chose to receive a booster dose to pump up immunity if they got an earlier jab, according to the Bloomberg News tracker.
“This new bivalent booster shot is another important tool in our toolbox,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said last week. “While federal guidance has made it confusing at times for people to know if and when they’re eligible, everyone 12 and older will be able to get to this new shot.”
On Tuesday, top White House health officials said the public will likely need annual COVID-19 boosters, which people can add to their appointments to obtain seasonal flu shots. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden who is leaving government in December, said it’s “becoming increasingly clear” that a COVID-19 jab will need to be received annually, assuming no “dramatically different variant” crops up (The Hill).
“Barring any new variant curveball,” said White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha, “for a large majority of Americans, we are moving to a point where a single annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection all year.”
Biden’s written invitation to get boosted was succinct on Tuesday: “Winter is not that far away. The past two years, we have seen COVID-19 cases and deaths soar. It does not have to be that way this year. If you are 12 and older, go get your new COVID-19 shot this fall.”
▪ Leana S. Wen, The Washington Post: The updated booster shot is a reset for how to manage COVID-19.
▪ The Washington Post: 10.5 million children globally lost a parent or caregiver because of COVID-19, according to a new study.
▪ Las Vegas Review-Journal: Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) tests positive for COVID-19.
▪ Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,048,217. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 342, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
▪ The Hill: The administration awarded a $20 million contract to AmerisourceBergen to expand distribution of monkeypox treatments and vaccines.
LEADING THE DAY
What feud? That was the message Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) tried to convey on Tuesday after a week of seemingly simmering tensions with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over the GOP’s faltering chances to retake the Senate majority this fall.
Scott, the chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, penned a scathing op-ed late last week calling it “treasonous” for Republicans to be “trash-talking” the quality of the party’s stable of Senate candidates ahead of the midterms. However, he told reporters that McConnell was not the target of his ire, despite the leader’s comments critical of the party’s “candidate quality.”
“I said people that do anonymous quotes to the liberal media,” Scott said on Tuesday. “People are doing anonymous quotes and trashing our Republican candidates” (The Hill).
Nevertheless, the ongoing feud has taken on a life of its own. Republicans on Capitol Hill were particularly unenthusiastic about discussing the back-and-forth upon returning to the Capitol on Tuesday from the August recess. When pressed whether it was problematic for the party, Sen. John Thune (S.D.), himself a member of GOP leadership, simply responded “yes.” Others said even less.
“I have complete confidence that [Scott] wants to do what we all want to do, which is win the majority back,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a McConnell ally, told reporters (Punchbowl News).
The chances for Republicans to win back the majority after a two-year stint in the minority have grown slimmer in recent weeks and months as a number of Trump-backed candidates have struggled to keep up financially and in the polls with a number of Democratic incumbents.
Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Senate Republicans point fingers as majority hopes slip.
One of those states is Pennsylvania, where Mehmet Oz has been unable to make a dent in the lead created by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D). On Tuesday, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) appeared at a campaign event alongside the GOP’s Senate nominee in Philadelphia, criticizing Fetterman’s continued refusal to debate the ex-television doctor and cardiologist after suffering a stroke in May.
“If John Fetterman were elected to the Senate, and he’s not able to communicate, if he’s not able to engage with the press, if he’s not able to engage with his colleagues, he would not be able to do his job,” Toomey said. “It’s just not plausible” (The Philadelphia Inquirer).
▪ The Hill: Oz says he would have certified Biden’s win over former President Trump.
▪ Washington Examiner: Toomey stays out of Pennsylvania governor’s race, declines to endorse state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R).
▪ Salena Zito: The realities of covering Fetterman.
▪ Julia Manchester and Caroline Vakil, The Hill: Nevada could cost Democrats their Senate majority.
On the House side, The Hill’s Emily Brooks spoke with Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who cautioned against any thinking on the GOP side that flipping the majority is a “done deal.” However, he argued against the conventional wisdom that the Supreme Court’s decision reversing Roe v. Wade has handed Democrats a boost and a potential lifeline to keep hold of the lower chamber.
“There are only two countries on the face of the planet that are that onerous with their abortion laws, and that’s China and North Korea,” Emmer said, referring to the House-passed bill that would codify Roe. “Again, I hope they center their elections on that one issue.”
Philip Bump, The Washington Post: What we don’t know about the effect of abortion on the midterm elections.
Meanwhile, a federal judge’s ruling to allow a special master to examine documents and items collected by the FBI during the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate could have a greater effect on the midterm elections.
As The Hill’s Brett Samuels notes, Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision is likely to slow the investigation into the former president’s handling of classified materials removed from the White House and stored at his residence. Additional time allows Trump to publicly describe the documents probe as partisan.
▪ The Washington Post: Some seized documents from Mar-a-Lago detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that only the president, some Cabinet members or near-Cabinet level officials could authorize other government officials to know the contents.
▪ The Hill: Florida judge throws Trump, DOJ curveball with special master decision.
▪ Mychael Schnell, The Hill: Five things to know about Cannon, the judge who granted Trump a special master.
▪ NBC News: Legal experts on Tuesday described Cannon’s ruling as a deeply flawed and unworkable mess.
That process could be prolonged even further if prosecutors appeal Cannon’s ruling. Former Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday told Fox News that if the Justice Department’s potential appeal is not expedited, it could take “several months” for a decision. He added that Cannon’s call was incorrect.
“The opinion I think was wrong, and I think the government should appeal it,” Barr told the network. “It’s deeply flawed in a number of ways. I don’t think the appointment of a special master is going to hold up, but even if it does, I don’t see it fundamentally changing the trajectory.”
“I think the fundamental dynamics of the case are set,” Barr added. “The government has very strong evidence of what it really needs to determine whether charges are appropriate” (Insider).
▪ Rebecca Beitsch and Mike Lillis, The Hill: Five things to watch as a special master looks at FBI’s seized Trump documents.
▪ The Associated Press: Trump-backed Geoff Diehl to take on state Attorney General Maura Healey (D) in Massachusetts governor race.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
The Democratic push to include language to codify same-sex marriage in the must-pass government spending bill hit bipartisan speed bumps on Tuesday as influential lawmakers involved in the codification effort criticized the plan.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has tasked with winning the needed 10 Republicans to put the same-sex marriage bill over the finish line, said on Tuesday that attaching it to a continuing resolution to fund the government by month’s end is not her “preferred path” to passage.
“That is not the Senator’s preferred path as she would like to see it taken up sooner,” a Baldwin spokesperson said. “The Senator’s goal is to pass the Respect for Marriage Act and she will do whatever it takes to get there” (Politico).
Adding to the issues, Republicans are steadfast against the idea. Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.), one of the two Senate GOP members working with Baldwin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on winning bipartisan support for the same-sex marriage bill, told reporters that attaching it to the continuing resolution is a “non-starter.”
At least four Senate Republicans — Portman, Tillis, Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — back the legislation. Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), who is considered the most endangered GOP senator up for reelection this fall, continued to give mixed signals on Tuesday over whether he would support it (NBC News).
Aris Folley, The Hill: Congress confronts funding deadline.
Elsewhere, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) broke with Biden’s on Tuesday over his plan to forgive $10,000 in federal student loan debt for most borrowers, calling it “excessive.”
“I just respectfully disagree on that,” Manchin told reporters. “I think there’s other ways. When people were calling me from back in West Virginia, I would give them all the options they had that would reduce their loan by going to work in the federal government.”
The president’s plan would forgive the $10,000 for those making less than $125,000 annually and $20,000 in loans for Pell Grant recipients under the same income threshold (The Hill).
The Hill: Farmers are eager for Senate to vote on migrant worker bill.
Biden on Tuesday said he would see Chinese President Xi Jinping in November at the Group of 20 summit to be held in Bali if his counterpart attends. “If he’s there, I’m sure I’ll see him,” the president said during a Cabinet meeting (CNBC). Both Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin plan to attend the conference of economic powers.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has been knocked in some quarters for adopting a lower profile in comparison with some of her predecessors when it comes to showy public dissections of the state of the U.S. economy. She will deliver a Thursday speech in Detroit about the administration’s economic agenda, in which she is expected to skewer the fossil fuel industry while championing a new law that incentivizes electric vehicles and the ongoing shift away from dependence on fossil fuels for transportation (The Hill).
■ Do “Trump judges” exist? We’re about to find out, by Noah Feldman, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3Ropd5Q
■ Owning up to America’s COVID-19 pandemic failures, by William A. Galston, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3TPqPao
WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet on Friday at 9 a.m. for a pro forma session and return to work in the Capitol on Sept. 13.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of John Lee to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the 7th Circuit.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden and first lady Jill Biden at 1:30 p.m. will welcome former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama to the White House for the East Room unveiling of their official White House portraits.
Vice President Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the Obamas’ portrait event at 1:30 p.m.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2:45 p.m.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Tuesday began her tenure as the United Kingdom’s new leader with big promises and a brief address from No. 10 Downing St. In between a downpour and initial steps to put a government together, she vowed to cut taxes to spur economic growth, bolster Britain’s National Health Service and “deal hands on” with its energy crisis, though she offered few details about how she would implement those policies. She is expected to unveil her energy plans on Thursday. According to the news media in Britain, Truss, 47, a one-time accountant and former foreign secretary who finds herself in a pressure cooker domestic environment, plans to cap energy bills. The cost to taxpayers of that step could cost the equivalent of $116 billion (The Associated Press).
Biden congratulated Truss during a Tuesday phone call and in a White House tweet.
“I look forward to deepening the special relationship between our countries and working in close cooperation on global challenges, including continued support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression,” he said.
Ukraine: In a report on Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency called on Ukraine and Russia to agree to a demilitarized safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and detailed a range of damage the site has sustained. It described the “high stress and pressure” under which Ukrainian staff are working at the site. “The current situation is untenable and the best action to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and its people would be for this armed conflict to end now,” the report stated. The Wall Street Journal describes details of the 14-member IAEA team’s white-knuckle mission.
Labor Day weekend marked a major moment in the recovery from COVID-19 as nearly nine million people passed through the nation’s airports — the first time a holiday weekend surpassed pre-pandemic air travel levels, according to the Transportation Security Administration. The agency announced on Tuesday it screened 8.76 million passengers between Friday and Monday, which was 102 percent of the Labor Day weekend passenger volume in 2019. TSA screened nearly 2.48 million passengers on Friday, the second highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic (The Hill).
A massive U.S. freight rail strike looms. Roughly 115,000 rail workers could walk off the job as soon as Sept. 16 if they don’t ratify a new contract with railroads (The Hill).
➤ STATE WATCH
The Los Angeles Unified School District announced on Tuesday that it was targeted in a cyberattack over the weekend. According to officials, unusual activity was detected over the weekend and that the source was “likely criminal” ransomware. They added that the district’s email system and some other technological services were disrupted a day earlier (The Hill).
In California, tens of thousands of residents were without power despite the state’s narrow avoidance late Tuesday of rolling blackouts as power demand smashed all-time records during a heat wave (NewsNation, KCRA3 and Reuters). Rolling outages still remain possible.
Education: Schools are back in session and students are facing severe learning losses. States are directing billions of dollars toward tutoring and other interventions to reverse pandemic declines in reading scores (The Wall Street Journal).
And finally … National Geographic presents a series of photos highlighting the fanciful work of graphic designer Darren Pearson, who “paints” with light and captures his colorful creatures and fantastic beasts in cameras using a slow shutter speed in the desert. He works only at night. What sparked his imagination were iconic black-and-white photographs of Pablo Picasso taken by Gjon Mili in 1949 in which the artist is seen filling the air with his subjects using light instead of paint.
Life magazine recounted the story behind Picasso’s rapidly imagined, freehand “light paintings” of centaurs, owls and human profiles HERE, and many of the photos were shown in 1950 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Pearson’s contemporary homage in the upcoming October issue of National Geographic can be seen HERE.