Just a few days after Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE called KEVIN MCCARTHY “weak” and said he needed to earn her vote to become speaker, the Republican lawmaker from Georgia took a different tone toward the GOP leader Friday night. “I just got off a good call with @GOPLeader,” she tweeted. “We spent time talking about solving problems not only in the conference, but for our country. I like what he has planned ahead.”
A few points this morning on MTG’s latest missive and McCarthy’s long-term bid for speaker:
1) This isn’t the end of this saga. It appears that MTG is just beginning to understand the depth of her power over McCarthy, who has been angling for years to become speaker. She has DONALD TRUMP’S ear and the following of about a dozen House rabble-rousers. She’s clearly starting to see that any time she doesn’t like something McCarthy does, all she has to do is call foul and lord his speakership dreams over his head. It’s going to be a very, very long year ahead for the House GOP leader.
2) What did McCarthy say to her? MTG had been pushing for McCarthy to strip committee assignments from Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure deal and/or to impeach Trump. That’s something McCarthy has declined to do (for now) — not least because that could lead to a serious math problem: If he turned on his moderate members and they bailed on his speakership effort, that could very well end his shot at the gavel. Yet MTG said, “I like what he has planned.” We’re curious what that is.
3) Trump is the wild card. For months, McCarthy has banked on his relationship with Trump to save him from the GOP conference’s fringe flank and help him win the gavel when the moment comes. It’s one of several reasons he visited Mar-a-Lago so quickly after January 6 despite his stated belief that Trump was personally responsible for the attack on the Capitol that left several people dead. If Trump gets behind him — or so the McCarthy calculation goes — members like MTG won’t be a problem. We’ll see.
OMICRON VS. EVERYBODY — On Friday, the deadly new coronavirus variant spreading rapidly in southern Africa got a name: Omicron.
That moniker comes from the World Health Organization, which, in an emergency meeting on Friday, labeled it a “variant of concern,” and said that “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection,” when compared against the Delta variant.
What do you need to know? There are a couple reads we found particularly informative:
1) AP’s Maria Cheng has a helpful explainer going through the basics. One main takeaway: Omicron could be very bad, but there’s so much we don’t yet know about it.
“Scientists know that omicron is genetically distinct from previous variants including the beta and delta variants, but do not know if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease,” Cheng writes. “It will likely take weeks to sort out if omicron is more infectious and if vaccines are still effective against it. … Even though some of the genetic changes in omicron appear worrying, it’s still unclear if they will pose a public health threat. Some previous variants, like the beta variant, initially alarmed scientists but didn’t end up spreading very far.”
2) Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina wrote a thorough-but-accessible debrief at Substack that dives deep into the science (but is easy to comprehend for those of us with degrees in the liberal arts). A couple key takeaways from her:
— The good news: (1) We can detect this variant on a PCR test, which “typically isn’t the case.” (2) “We caught this virus incredibly early.” (3) “If we need another vaccine, we can do this incredibly quickly. Thanks to the new biotechnology, mRNA vaccines are really easy to alter. … Because the change is small, an updated vaccine doesn’t need Phase III trials and/or regularity approval. So, this whole process should take a max of 6 weeks.”
— The bad news: (1) Omicron has “32 mutations on the spike protein alone. This is an insane amount of change. As a comparison, Delta had 9 changes on the spike protein.” That matters because “the spike is the key into our cells. If the virus changes to become a smarter key, we need to know.” (2) “Some mutations have properties to escape antibody protection (i.e. outsmart our vaccines and vaccine-induced immunity). There are several mutations association with increased transmissibility.”
— In general, her advice: It’s too soon to tell how bad Omicron is. “It will take weeks to understand what these new mutations mean or, more importantly, the combination of so many mutations. Keep in mind that the number of mutations does NOT always equal more severe. … There’s still so much that we don’t know but what we do know is incredibly concerning.”
But President JOE BIDEN can’t afford the luxury of waiting for all the data to come in before swiftly moving to try and halt the variant’s spread.
— Starting on Monday, only U.S. citizens and residents will be able to fly to the U.S. from eight nations in southern Africa — mirroring a similar travel ban by the EU, per the BBC. In a statement, Biden called the U.S. travel ban “a precautionary measure until we have more information,” and again urged Americans to get vaccinated. Worth flagging: Jetelina writes that “it may seem like travel bans for individual countries are a necessary step, but I cannot stress enough that they do not work. … This variant has already spread. A travel ban is not an evidence-based solution unless you stop all travel from every country.” Case in point, this just published: “Two cases of new variant of Covid detected in UK,” BBC News
— Fears about Omicron have already spooked investors, who worry about a potential Omicron wave’s effect on the economy. “On Friday, the stock market tumbled, with the Dow Jones falling more than 900 points on concerns about the new variant, its worst day of the year thus far at the close, write WaPo’s Annie Linskey and Tyler Pager.
— That said, one short-term effect of those fears is a likely drop in gas prices. On Friday, oil prices fell more than 11%, and “gasoline and diesel futures each dropped more than 12%,” writes WSJ’s Ryan Dezember. (Of course, that’s not likely to matter much if there’s no place to go.)
In a real sense, Biden’s presidency rises and falls on the waves of the coronavirus. The Delta wave in August precipitated a lasting fall in Biden’s political popularity and job-approval numbers — which sets up Omicron as yet another major test for the White House. That reality — plus the economic jitters rattling an already-uneasy economy — could have the makings of a storm for the president.
9 THINGS WE READ THAT STUCK WITH US …
— Black Friday retail sales were up 29.8% through mid-afternoon, AP’s Tali Arbel and Anne D’Innocenzio report. Even so, the one-two punch of the pandemic and supply-chain issues has diminished the typical materialistic bacchanalia that has long characterized the day.
— Even Christmas trees aren’t immune from supply-chain issues this year, WaPo’s Laura Reiley writes. “Rerouted Fraser firs, fried Oregon pines, artificial trees caught in broken supply chains, and sky-high transportation costs have contorted the seasonal arbor trade like an oversized tree scrunched under a low ceiling. The situation has importers, growers, sellers and buyers even more frazzled amid Black Friday, when Christmas tree shopping begins in earnest.”
— Texas’ new abortion law is making it more difficult for doctors to treat risky pregnancies. “Texas’ new measure was intended to impose stringent limits on abortion. But it is also affecting women who have no desire for termination but are experiencing medically risky pregnancies,” NYT’s Roni Caryn Rabin reports. “Many doctors say they are unable to discuss the procedure as an option until the patient’s condition deteriorates and her life is at risk. … Abortion is permitted in Texas after six weeks only when a woman is facing a life-threatening or disabling medical emergency linked to her pregnancy. The law makes no exceptions for nonviable pregnancies in which the fetus has no chance of survival.”
— Climate change is causing migration that’s already reshaping American politics, reports Ben Lefebvre. Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have moved to Central Florida; people fleeing wildfires have clashed with locals in Chico, Calif., the farming hub many moved to this year; affluent Virginia families making moves at the county level to avoid floodplains and other threats to property damage, and so on.
— Reminder: The U.S. is on track to hit the debt ceiling in less than three weeks. For The Atlantic, RAND Corp’s Edward Geist warns that playing “chicken” on the issue is like nuclear brinkmanship: “The more times the game is played, the more treacherous it becomes, because when both sides become convinced that catastrophe will always be averted in the end, each behaves more rashly.”
— Meanwhile, the administration must also contend with major concerns about inflation. WSJ’s Amara Omeokwe and Andrew Restuccia have the 30,000-foot view as Biden races “to show the public that he is taking action to address rising prices and bottlenecks amid mounting anxiety among some of his advisers about political fallout heading into next year’s midterm elections. He has instructed his most senior economic advisers to focus on the issues, White House officials said, setting up an internal task force that is tracking granular data such as how many containers are sitting in the country’s ports and how long they have been there.”
— In an attempt to raise more money for his investment firm, JARED KUSHNER has turned his attention to the Middle East — a region that he dealt with extensively during his time working in the Trump administration, NYT’s Kate Kelly, David Kirkpatrick and Alan Rappeport report. Both Qatar and the main Emirati sovereign wealth funds declined to invest with Kushner — with the Emirati questioning “his track record in business” — but the Saudis are negotiating “what could prove to be a sizable investment in his new firm.”
— Biden spent Black Friday out on the town in Nantucket, “popping unannounced into quaint mom-and-pop shops, appearing to make purchases and posing for photos with surprised business owners,” AP’s Darlene Superville reports. “Biden and his entire family are spending the Thanksgiving holiday on the Massachusetts island, renting a sprawling compound that belongs to his friend and billionaire philanthropist DAVID RUBENSTEIN.” (He also attended the island’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on Friday night, per Bloomberg’s Josh Wingrove.)
— If you’ve gotten a fundraising email that says it’s from BETO O’ROURKE, it may not have actually been from the Texas gubernatorial hopeful’s campaign. “Imitating others and mimicking official correspondence with postage-paid mailers is an age-old trick that marketers have used since long before the internet. The tactic has been adapted and updated for the digital era — and appears to be accelerating in prevalence in the political sphere,” NYT’s Shane Goldmacher reports. “Some of these examples may seem like easily detectable and even harmless deceptions. But strategists in both parties say a huge share of online cash is raised from older Americans who are less adroit online and have a harder time separating fact from hyperbole. The reason that so-called Nigerian prince scams exist, after all, is because people fall for them.”
CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 18 funnies
GREAT WEEKEND READS …
— “How to Save a Ski Town,” by Gloria Liu for Outside: “All over the West, a housing crisis is causing workforce shortages, crippling local businesses, and threatening the culture and existence of mountain towns as we know them. But amid the doom and gloom, some people are fighting for solutions.”
— “The Gene-Synthesis Revolution,” by Yiren Lu for NYT Magazine: “Researchers can now design and mass-produce genetic material — a technique that helped build the mRNA vaccines. What could it give us next?”
— “10 photo essays that capture 2021, a year of uncertainty and endurance,” by WaPo Magazine: “It was the year the pandemic wouldn’t end. From New York to Miami to Gaza to Sicily, here’s what it looked like to photographers.”
— “‘Am I even fit to be a mom?’ Diaper need is an invisible part of poverty in America,” by The 19th News’ Chabeli Carrazana: “Parents cannot use federal aid to pay for diapers, and are often forced to come up with other solutions, using maxi pads or towels to keep their children clean and dry. In rural America where aid is even harder to access, tiny diaper banks are the only lifeline.”
Lauren Boebert apologized for making bigoted remarks about Muslims, and says she has reached out to Ilhan Omar specifically.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Jessica Bowen Gall, a professional staff member for the House Education and Labor Committee’s Democrats, and Andrew Gall, an attorney adviser in training for the United States Commission on Civil Rights, on Tuesday welcomed Zadie Gall, named for her grandparents/her mom’s favorite author, Zadie Smith. Pic
BIRTHWEEK (was Friday): Andrew Moore
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) … Caroline Kennedy … Alex Wagner … Rich Verma of Mastercard … Mary Vought of the Senate Conservatives Fund … Sam Love … POLITICO’s Adam Cancryn and Solomon Yeon … Jason Gold … Brian McCormack … Nick Massella of PBS NewsHour … Sean Bartlett … Jasmin Alemán of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office … Ryan Morgan of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) office … Hannah Osantowske of Rep. Greg Pence’s (R-Ind.) office (24) … Nick Wittenberg of Deloitte … Kaiser Health News’ Victoria Knight … Michael Starr Hopkins of Northern Starr Strategies … Shai Korman of the Center for a New American Security … John Aravosis … Susan Falconer … Kathryn Ciano of Google … former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) … Joe Solmonese … former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty … former Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) … Chelsie Jeppson … Libby Leist of the “Today” show … Rob Towner … Dina Cappiello of RMI … Sid Burgess (4-0)
THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):
“The Sunday Show”: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg … Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) … Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) … Daniel Goldman … Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) … Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
“This Week”: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) … Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Panel: Chris Christie, Donna Brazile, Heidi Heitkamp and Reihan Salam.
“Fox News Sunday,” guest-anchored by Trace Gallagher: Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) … Mohamed El-Erian … NIH Director Francis Collins. Panel: Karl Rove, Jacqueline Alemany and Juan Williams. Power Player: Sandy Lerner.
“Full Court Press”: Dave Krepcho … Steve Preston.
“Meet the Press”: Anthony Fauci … Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves … Michael Cohen. Panel: Hallie Jackson, Danielle Pletka, Eugene Robinson and Jake Sherman.
“State of the Union”: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) … Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Panel: Scott Jennings, Xochitl Hinojosa, Ramesh Ponnuru and Nina Turner.
“Inside Politics”: Panel: Hans Nichols, Melanie Zanona, Eva McKend, Alex Thompson and Jim Tankersley.
“Face the Nation”: Anthony Fauci … Dave Clark.
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