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10 Things in Politics: Capitol Hill divided over vax mandates

Business Insider
Business Insider
 2021-09-22

Welcome back to 10 Things in Politics . Sign up here to receive this newsletter . Plus, download Insider's app for news on the go - click here for iOS and here for Android . Send tips to bgriffiths@insider.com or tweet me at @BrentGriffiths .

Here's what we're talking about:

With Phil Rosen.


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Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican of North Carolina, and Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat of Delaware, heading to the Senate chamber for votes at the US Capitol on Monday.

1. INSIDE THE CAPITOL : The halls of Congress are not much different from scenes back home. President Joe Biden's sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate does not cover lawmakers or their staff members. According to a memo obtained by Insider, each of the 435 House offices can set its own vaccine policies. This is leading to suspicion, concern, and more headaches .

Here's a look at where things stand:

Some Democratic staffers are fearful of their unvaccinated counterparts: They told my Insider colleagues that they had been wary of sharing spaces in the cafeterias, bathrooms, and staircases.

  • Don't ask about the vax: One Republican House staffer told Insider that GOP aides didn't talk about their vaccination status for the most part "and consider it a personal decision." Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, a former dentist, falsely suggested that asking about vaccination status would violate HIPAA. ( It does not .)

Many Republican lawmakers said they're vaccinated but wouldn't impose a mandate: "I am pro-vaccine and anti-mandate," said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. Added Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin: "I don't encourage or discourage. I just want people fully informed."

While some of their Democratic colleagues are following Biden's example: Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said he had a vaccine mandate for his staff and for any outside visitors. The office of Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia asked staffers to disclose when they got their shot. New staffers and interns are also required to get vaccinated.

  • Hiring unvaccinated staffers would be ludicrous to some: "I've made a point of not hiring knuckleheads, and everybody on our staff got vaccinated as soon as they got the chance to do it and didn't have to worry about it," Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois said. He said his office was eager to get vaccinated "because they don't like to be dead."
  • This is about more than just practicing what they preach: While less so in the House, the Capitol is unusually vulnerable in the sheer number of older elected officials. Aging Democratic senators make the party's control of Washington vulnerable to change at any moment .

Read more about how vaccine mandates are and aren't working within Congress.


2. House passes bill meant to avert a government shutdown and avoid a debt default: The vote was 220-211 along party lines. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to block the bill in the Senate, meaning there's still no agreement that would avoid a shutdown and government default. Congress keeps playing chicken with a rule that could torpedo the economy. Here's an explainer on the debt ceiling and why a default would be so dangerous .

  • Progressive lawmakers forced Democrats to pull funding for Israel's Iron Dome : The House-passed bill to avoid a government shutdown did not include $1 billion for Israel's missile-defense system, CNN reports. The provision was removed after a group of liberal lawmakers threatened to tank the entire legislation if it remained. A top House Democrat pledged to find another way to get the funding passed .

3. Trump is suing The New York Times and his niece over his tax records: Former President Donald Trump is suing Mary Trump, The Times, and three of the paper's reporters for their coverage of his tax records, The Daily Beast reports. The suit alleges that Mary Trump and The Times came up with an "insidious plot" on how to obtain the financial records that provided the basis for an 18-month Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation that illustrated how Trump was able to pay no federal income taxes for at least 11 years. More on the lawsuit .


4. D uring his UN address, Biden promises "relentless diplomacy": Biden told fellow world leaders that the US would continue to work to resolve crises around the world, Reuters reports. He did not dwell on his latest actions that had angered some allies, including the chaotic ending to the war in Afghanistan. The president also never mentioned China by name, but he laid out thinly veiled references to Beijing and Vladimir Putin's Russia. Most notably, Biden pledged that the US would double its pledged funding to developing nations to address the climate crisis, though Congress will have the final say. Here are some other major moments from the speech .


5. Americans haven't hated the housing market this much in a long time: Just 29% of Americans this month said it was a good time to buy a home, the University of Michigan's Surveys of Consumers found. That's the smallest share since 1982 and close to record lows. People are pessimistic about other things too, including the economic recovery .


6. Democrats push White House over images from the border: Photos and videos of US border agents on horseback grabbing and shouting at migrants have sparked intense anger among some of the president's allies, The Washington Post reports. The White House has distanced itself from the agents' conduct, but top Democrats are pressing the administration to reverse its decision to expel more Haitian immigrants seeking asylum. More on the anger within Biden's party .

  • Key quote: "If we were to close our eyes and this was occurring under the Trump administration, what would we do?" the NAACP's president, Derrick Johnson, told The Post, calling the treatment of Haitian migrants "utterly sickening."

7. Family confirms that authorities found Gabby Petito's body: The Teton County Coroner's Office performed an autopsy on the body found near the border of Grand Teton National Park. The FBI said the initial determination for her death was homicide. Authorities continue to search for Petito's fiancé, Brian Laundrie, a person of interest in the case whose family reported him missing last week. The latest on the case .


8. France is escalating its disputes with the US and Australia: French President Emmanuel Macron is said to be seeking to derail a planned European Union-Australia trade deal and separate EU-US trade talks to show displeasure over Australia's submarine deal with the UK and the US. Other nations have been taken aback at the intensity of the French response to losing the deal .


9. Evergrande debt fiasco has rocked global markets. Now investors are waiting to see whether the Chinese property giant will be able to pay $83 million in interest on its bonds due Thursday. Some investors are worried, while others like Fundstrat's Tom Lee anticipate a full market rebound . Evergrande already missed payments that were due Monday, and its next move could have widespread market implications. Here's what investors are focused on as the key debt payment looms .


10. Fall officially arrives today: The fall equinox is at 3:21 p.m. ET. On the equinox, sunrise and sunset are roughly 12 hours apart worldwide, and Earth's tilt is perpendicular to the angle of sunlight. A planetary scientist created an animation that shows what exactly happens during equinoxes. See the animation here .


Today's trivia question: The UN has been depicted in many famous films, but the organization hasn't always given its OK. Which movie required Cary Grant's entrance into the UN headquarters to be secretly filmed? Email your guess and a suggested question to me at bgriffiths@insider.com .

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