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Joe Biden says Omicron Covid variant a ‘cause for concern, not panic’ – as it happened

The Guardian
The Guardian
 2021-11-30

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1.00am GMT

Summary

  • The CDC announced Monday that all adults should get a Covid-19 booster shot, strengthening its previous recommendation amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant.
  • Pfizer is reportedly planning to request authorization from the FDA for its Covid booster for 16- and 17-year-olds.
  • Dr Oz is expected to join the Pennsylvania Senate race as a Republican to replace Pat Toomey
  • Joe Biden postponed his remarks about the supply chain for Tuesday instead.
  • Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar hung up on a phone call with far-right congresswoman Lauren Boebert . The phone call was to address Islamophobic comments that Boebert made about Omar - Omar wanted a public apology while Boebert also wanted an apology from Omar.
  • The House select committee investigating the 6 January attack on the US Capitol announced on Monday that it will vote to recommend the criminal prosecution of top former Trump justice department official Jeffrey Clark, after he defied a subpoena seeking his cooperation with the inquiry.
  • The justice department is accusing Trump ally Steve Bannon of seeking to try his charge of criminal contempt of Congress through the media.

– Vivian Ho and Dani Anguiano

Updated at 1.15am GMT

12.44am GMT

Dr Oz expected to join Pennsylvania Senate race

Dr Mehmet Oz is expected to join the Pennsylvania Senate race, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Several news reports in recent weeks have indicated the TV doctor, who until recently lived in New Jersey, was considering running as a Republican to replace Senator Pat Toomey.

Army veteran Sean Parnell was previously considered the lead contender in the race and had gained an endorsement from Donald Trump, but he suspended his campaign after losing a custody battle with his estranged wife. His wife had accused him of abusing her and striking one of their children.

“There is nothing more important to me than my children, and while I plan to ask the court to reconsider, I can’t continue with a Senate campaign,” Parnell said.

Oz would enter the race with widespread name recognition, but not without controversy. He has a history of promoting dubious medical treatments on his show. In 2015, a group of prominent doctors urged Columbia University to cut ties with Oz for “ an egregious lack of integrity ” and promoting “quack treatments” unsupported by scientific evidence.

Updated at 1.15am GMT

12.05am GMT

Amazon workers in Alabama will get another union election after the company was found to have violated labor law in the previous election, the Associated Press reports.

The move is a major blow to Amazon, which had spent about a year aggressively campaigning for warehouse workers in Bessemer to reject the union, which they ultimately did by a wide margin.

It also comes at a time of widespread labor unrest in the US as a somewhat rejuvenated American union movement is flexing its muscles in an economy that is seeking to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The rare move was first announced on Monday by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which spearheaded the union organizing movement. A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) spokeswoman confirmed the decision.

The RWDSU charged Amazon with illegal misconduct during the first vote. In August, the hearing officer at NLRB who presided over the case determined that Amazon violated labor law and recommended that the regional director set aside the results and direct another election.

Full story here:

Related: Amazon workers in Alabama to get another union election

11.32pm GMT

Joe Manchin has told reporters he won’t commit to passing Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill by Christmas, the timeline laid out by Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader. “We will wait to see what we have,” the West Virginia Democrat said.

Manchin and Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema have wielded outsize influence over the president’s $1.75tn social spending and climate package, which was passed by Democrats in the House of Representatives earlier this month.

The conservative pair, who present the last hurdle to the president’s Build Back Better plan, pressured colleagues to cut the cost of the plan in half and continue to raise concerns over its cost. The Senate holdouts have been heavily criticized for accepting a flood of money from Republican and corporate donors.

Related: How Manchin and Sinema’s status as Senate holdouts is proving lucrative

10.58pm GMT

Pfizer is reportedly planning to request authorization for its Covid booster for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The company and partner BioNTech are expected to ask the FDA to authorize its booster shot for the age group in the coming days, according to the Washington Post . All adults are currently eligible for the booster shot after the CDC strengthened its booster recommendation on Monday amid growing fears over the new Omicron variant. The variant has not yet been detected in the US, but the World Health Organization warns it poses a high global risk.

“Given the current overall situation of the pandemic, FDA will evaluate any such EUA request in a very timely manner,” the agency told the Post.

A Pfizer spokesperson said the company expects “to share updates on this soon”.

Updated at 11.53pm GMT

10.30pm GMT

Good afternoon. I’m Dani Anguiano and I’ll be taking over our live US politics coverage for the rest of the day.

The CDC announced Monday that all adults should get a Covid-19 booster shot, strengthening its previous recommendation amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant. The agency now recommends that everyone 18 and older get a booster shot within two months of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or within six months of receiving the Pfizer or Moderna shots.

The World Health Organization has said the Omicron variant carries a very high global risk of infection surges. Though significant questions remain, including whether the new variant is more transmissible. Joe Biden said on Monday that the variant is a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic”, and urged Americans to get vaccinated and get booster shots.

“Do not wait,” he said. “Go get your booster if it’s time for you to do so. And if you are not vaccinated, now is the time to go get vaccinated and to bring your children to go get vaccinated.”

10.06pm GMT

Today so far

  • Joe Biden postponed his remarks about the supply chain for tomorrow instead.
  • Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar hung up on a phone call with far-right congresswoman Lauren Boebert . The phone call was to address Islamophobic comments that Boebert made about Omar - Omar wanted a public apology while Boebert also wanted an apology from Omar.
  • The House select committee investigating the 6 January attack on the US Capitol announced on Monday that it will vote to recommend the criminal prosecution of top former Trump justice department official Jeffrey Clark, after he defied a subpoena seeking his cooperation with the inquiry.
  • The justice department is accusing Trump ally Steve Bannon , the Trump ally of charging his criminal contempt of Congress through the media.

Updated at 1.16am GMT

9.23pm GMT

So far-right congresswoman Lauren Boebert has posted on Instagram her version of the phone call with Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar , and the Islamophobic remarks she made about Omar for which she had to issue an apology.

Turns out, Boebert went into the phone call expecting Omar to apologize to her.

Updated at 1.16am GMT

9.15pm GMT

In 1973, supreme court justices issued a landmark ruling in the case of Roe v Wade , effectively legalizing abortion across the US.

In Roe, the court affirmed that access to safe and legal abortion was a constitutional right. The court ruled that states could not ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb, roughly considered to be 24 weeks gestation (a full-term pregnancy is considered to be 39 weeks).

Now, Roe faces a direct challenge. The supreme court justices has taken up the case of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Clinic , in which they will consider whether the state of Mississippi can ban nearly all abortion from 15 weeks. Abortion advocates believe the choice to take the case implies that at last four justices see it as a chance to reconsider the precedent set by Roe .

Oral arguments in the case are set to be heard on 1 December, Wednesday, with a ruling expected in June next year. But already, pro-choice campaigners are warning of a future where abortion may no longer be legal in the majority of the US.

Full story:

Related: What will US’s future look like if abortion becomes a crime again?

8.51pm GMT

Joe Biden was set to speak about the supply chain today, his second public remarks of the day. But at last minute, the White House postponed the event until tomorrow.

8.43pm GMT

Democrat congresswoman Ilhan Omar has issued a new statement regarding a phone call she had with far-right congresswoman Lauren Boebert regarding the Islamophobic remarks Boebert made about Omar.

“Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies , Representative Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments,” Omar said. “She instead doubled down on her rhetoric and I decided to end the unproductive call.”

In comments in her home district , Boebert referred to Omar as part of the “Jihad Squad” and described her as a suicide bomber. R epublican congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois called her “trash” for her remarks, but House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has been noticably silent on the matter.

8.24pm GMT

Donald Trump’s fact-free ” approach to the presidency created unprecedented challenges for intelligence officials responsible for briefing him, according to a newly released account from the CIA.

The 45th president’s chaotic and freewheeling style, which included rarely reading anything put in front of him, resulted in the presidential daily briefing, or PDB – a crucial security update including information about potential threats to the US – being delivered more regularly to Vice-president Mike Pence instead, the report states.

By the middle of Trump’s term in office, his briefings were reduced to two weekly sessions of 45 minutes each. Briefings were discontinued altogether following the deadly insurrection of 6 January, which was sparked by Trump urging his supporters to march on the US Capitol in a failed attempt to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden .

Related: Trump’s ‘fact-free’ approach caused briefing challenges, CIA report says

Updated at 8.28pm GMT

8.00pm GMT

6 January committee targets Clark for contempt charge

The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack announced on Monday that it will vote to recommend the criminal prosecution of top former Trump justice department official Jeffrey Clark, after he defied a subpoena seeking his cooperation with the inquiry.

The move to pursue contempt of Congress charges against Clark reflects the select committee’s aggressive approach to warn recalcitrant witnesses against attempting to derail their investigation as Trump tried during his administration.

Members on the select committee will convene on Wednesday evening to vote on the contempt report – which is expected to be unanimous, according to a source familiar with the matter – and send it to a vote before the full House of Representatives.

Related: Capitol riot panel to vote for contempt charges against Trump DoJ official

7.45pm GMT

The former Florida congresswoman Carrie Meek , who died on Sunday, has been remembered as a trailblazer, a descendent of enslaved people who became one of the first Black Floridians elected to Congress since Reconstruction.

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Carrie Meek. Photograph: Steve Cannon/AP

The late congressman John Lewis had another way of describing her.

“We see showboats and we see tugboats. She’s a tugboat. I never want to be on the side of issues against her,” Lewis said of Meek in 1999.

On Monday, politicians and public figures including Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, recalled a pioneering career, many noting Meek’s devotion to working-class families in her Miami district as well as her powerful oratory, in an outpouring of support after her death at 95 after a long illness.

Related: Carrie Meek, daughter of Black sharecroppers who blazed path to Congress, dies aged 95

7.23pm GMT

The US Department of Justice has accused Steve Bannon , the Trump ally and adviser charged with criminal contempt of Congress, of trying to try his own case through the media.

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Steve Bannon. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Bannon pleaded not guilty to the rare charge, which carries jail time and a fine and which arises from his refusal to co-operate with the House select committee investigating the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the presidential election.

On Sunday, the DoJ filed a response to Bannon’s request for all records in the case to be made public.

Assistant US attorney Amanda Vaughn wrote: “The defense’s misleading claims, failure to confer, unexplained wholesale opposition, and extrajudicial statements make clear the defense’s real purpose: to abuse criminal discovery to try this case in the media rather than in court.”

Bannon’s request, last Wednesday, came with a statement to the Washington Post.

“Members of the public should make their own independent judgment as to whether the US Department of Justice is committed to a just result based upon all the facts,” the statement said. “In the opposition filed today, Mr Bannon asked the judge to follow the normal process and allow unfettered access to and use of the documents.”

Vaughan made clear prosecutors have been aware of Bannon’s tactics from the start, writing with reference to his appearance in court earlier in November : “Upon release from custody, the defendant and his counsel gathered the press outside of the courthouse and made a five-minute statement about the pending charges.

“See ‘Misdemeanor from Hell’: Watch Bannon Speak Out After He’s Released , CNN, 15 November 2021”.

Vaughan also wrote that Bannon had “indicated he intends to publicly disseminate [court] materials for an improper purpose: to make extrajudicial arguments about the merits of the case pending against him and the validity of the government’s decision to seek an indictment.

“Contrary to what the defendant told the Washington Post, allowing unfettered public access to discovery materials, regardless of their use or relevance to public judicial proceedings, is not the ‘normal process’. It is the opposite of normal.”

Here’s more on the 6 January committee and what might be coming this week:

Related: Capitol attack: Schiff says Mark Meadows contempt decision imminent

7.05pm GMT

Summary

  • Joe Biden addressed Americans about the omicron variant of Covid-19 , calling it a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic”.
  • Both Biden and White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the travel ban issued against eight southern African countries - but not against the number of other countries in Europe and beyond where scientists have detected the variant. “It’s much more wider spread” in southern Africa, Psaki said.
  • Congress is expected to be busy this week with the debt limit , with the House of Representatives set to introduce a stopgap funding bill to extend government funding beyond the current deadline – Friday 3 December – through mid- to late January, with 21 January and 28 January the dates up for discussion.
  • Democrat congressman Tom Suozzi has just announced that he will be running for governor of New York , making him the 18th Democrat in Congress to not seek reelection in 2022 - very much putting the Democrats’ narrow majority at risk.

6.59pm GMT

Today a f ederal court issued an injunction pausing the vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers .

White House press secretary Jen Psaki had a response:

“We’re obviously going to abide by the law and fight any efforts in court or otherwise to prevent local authorities, officials, leaders in the health care industries and other industries from protecting their workforces,” she said.

Psaki noted that private, individual companies can put in place requirements in order to protect their workforce and that is something a number of companies have done across the company. “We continue to encourage leaders to take steps to protect their workforces,” Psaki said.

6.34pm GMT

White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the travel ban that Joe Biden issued against eight southern African countries - the omicron variant of Covid-19 was first detected in that region.

“The objective here is not to punish, but to protect the American people,” Psaki said. “As you just heard the president say, this is not going to prevent - this is going to delay and that delay is going to help us have the necessary time to do the research by our health and medical teams to get more people vaccinated and more people boosted. He is always going to air on the side of protecting the American people.”

Though the omicron variant has since been detected the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, France and Canada. Psaki said the reason why the ban applied to southern Africa rather than these other countries is because there were thousands of omicron cases in southern Africa while only a few cases in the other countries. .

6.25pm GMT

The new omicron variant is at the forefront of today’s White House press briefing . Again, there have been no reported cases on US soil yet. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said today the administration’s top health officials are “working around the clock” to be prepared and the Centers for Disease Control is meeting today with state labs and state health associations to make sure everybody is ready on a federal, state and local level.

“What the president was trying to convey is that there are several layers of work to be done right now,” Psaki said.

6.20pm GMT

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has taken the podium for the White House press briefing , prepping the press corps for the president’s round table meeting for Cyber Monday with the chief executives of several companies to discuss issues with the supply chain , which he will be speaking about later today.

5.29pm GMT

Joe Biden was immediately asked about the travel ban he issued, which he said was because “there were a significant number of cases”.

“We needed time to get people the opportunity to get the vaccination now before it moved around the world,” he said.

Biden. said he doesn’t anticipate any more travel restrictions . Dr Anthony Fauci , Biden’s chief medical adviser, took to the podium to explain the stringent requirements already in place for those traveling internationally to the US - travellers must both be vaccinated and be tested before entering.

Biden said he does not anticipate the need for any future lockdowns. “If people are vaccinated and wear their masks , there won’t be a need for a lockdown,” he said.

5.20pm GMT

Biden to fast-track vaccine development should Omicron require it

“In the event, hopefully unlikely, that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant , we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool.

“We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed. But so that we are prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines and boosters if needed. I will also direct the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to use the fastest process possible without cutting any corners for safekeeping to get vaccines approved and on the market as soon as possible if needed.

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Anthony Fauci takes the podium to answer a question at the address on Monday. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

“I’m sparing no effort. I’m removing all road blocks to keep the American people safe.”

Updated at 5.27pm GMT

5.14pm GMT

Biden: best protection against Omicron is vaccination and booster

“If you are 1 8 years and older and got fully vaccinated before 1 June go get the get booster shot today,” Joe Biden said today. “They’re free and they’re available at 80,000 locations coast to coast . A fully vaccinated booster person is the most protected against Covid .

“Do not wait. Go get your booster if it’s time for you to do so. And if you are not vaccinated, now is the time to go get vaccinated and to bring your children to go get vaccinated.”

So far, no cases of the new omicron variant of Covid-19 have been reported in the US. But Biden said it’s only a matter of time. “Sooner or later, we are going to see new cases of this new variant here in the United States and we’re going to have to face this new threat just as we have faced the ones that came before it.”

Updated at 5.20pm GMT

5.10pm GMT

Biden: Omicron variant is cause for concern, not panic

Joe Biden took to the podium to tell Americans that the new omicron variant of Covid-19 “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic”.

“We’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion,” he said. “We have more tools today to fight the variant than we ever had before, from vaccines to boosters, to vaccines for children .”

“A year ago, America was floundering against the first variant of Covid,” Biden continued. “We beat that variant significantly, and then we got hit by a far more powerful threat, the Delta variant . But we took action and now we’re seeing deaths from Delta come down.

“Look, we’re going to fight and beat this new variant as well.”

Updated at 5.11pm GMT

4.58pm GMT

Joe Biden is expected to speak momentarily about the new omicron variant of Covid-19 .

The Associated Press is reporting that the president is expected to urge Americans to get vaccinated - but not push for more restrictions - in the face of this new variant, of which there are no reported cases yet in the US.

4.31pm GMT

Democrat congressman Tom Suozzi has just announced that he will be running for governor of New York .

This is significant in that Suozzi is now the 18th Democrat in Congress to not seek reelection in 2022, putting at risk the very narrow majority that the left holds.

4.02pm GMT

Actor Matthew McConaughey has officially announced that he will not be running for governor of Texas , a seat for which former Democratic congressman and candidate for Senate and president Beto O’Rourke is also vying.

Read more about it here:

Related: Matthew McConaughey says he will not run for Texas governor

3.28pm GMT

Tis the season for the White House to unveil its holiday decorations - a task that falls under the purview of first lady Jill Biden .

3.15pm GMT

Rand Paul , a senator from Kentucky, has clashed publicly with Anthony Fauci over virus research carried out before the pandemic. Ted Cruz , from Texas, has said Fauci should be prosecuted regarding his handling of the Covid response.

“Yeah,” Fauci told CBS in his Sunday interview. “I have to laugh at that. I should be prosecuted? What happened on 6 January, senator?”

Cruz was among Republicans who voted to object to electoral college results in key states, even after Trump supporters mounted a deadly attack on the US Capitol .

Asked if he was being made a scapegoat for Trump’s failings under Covid, Fauci said: “Of course, you have to be asleep not to figure that one out … That’s OK, I’m just going to do my job and I’m going to be saving lives and they’re going to be lying.”

Playing politics with his role in the Covid response, Fauci said, was “unbelievably bad because all I want to do is save people’s lives. That’s what I have done for the last 50 years …

“I mean, anybody who’s looking at this carefully realises that there’s a distinct anti-science flavor to this. So if they get up and criticize science, nobody’s going to know what they’re talking about. But if they get up and really aim their bullets at Tony Fauci, well, people could recognize there’s a person there. There’s a face, there’s a voice you can recognize, you see him on television.

“So it’s easy to criticise, but they’re really criticising science because I represent science. That’s dangerous. To me, that’s more dangerous than the slings and the arrows that get thrown at me.

“I’m not going to be around here forever, but science is going to be here forever. And if you damage science, you are doing something very detrimental to society long after I leave. And that’s what I worry about.”

Here’s video of one memorable exchange between Paul and Fauci, from a Senate hearing in July:

3.06pm GMT

In an interview broadcast by CBS on Sunday , Dr Anthony Fauci had strong words for Republicans attacking him over his role in the federal coronavirus response.

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Anthony Fauci. Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser has served seven presidents since 1984 and is now to the fore in preparations for the arrival of the Omicron coronavirus variant and efforts to increase vaccination against Covid-19.

Under Donald Trump , Fauci was often at odds with his boss or attacked by him. He attracted death threats as well as the ire of Republicans in Congress.

He told CBS: “I dealt with it by focusing on what my job is from the time that I went into medicine to right now. Where I am at my age” – nearly 81 – “my job has been totally focused on doing what I can with the talents and the influence I had to make scientific advances to protect the health of the American public.

“So anybody who spins lies and threatens and all that theatre that goes on with some of the investigations and the congressional committees and the Rand Pauls and all that other nonsense … that’s noise. I know what my job is.”

Related: Fauci: US could face ‘fifth wave’ of Covid as Omicron variant nears

2.59pm GMT

Punchbowl News , a Capitol Hill-focused outlet, is reporting that House leaders are ready to introduce a stopgap funding bill to extend government funding beyond the current deadline – Friday 3 December – through mid- to late January, with 21 January and 28 January the dates up for discussion.

A floor vote could take place as early as Wednesday, but then Senate leaders will need an agreement to push the resolution through by Friday.

There is also the small matter of the debt limit, the arbitrary borrowing cap that is raised each year to prevent the US from defaulting on its debts – a move that would cause economic catastrophe across the globe. The treasury secretary, Janet Yellen , has said the US can meet its obligations till 15 December or so.

Punchbowl isn’t expecting the same high drama on the issue as October, when Biden bluffed on filibuster reform to get Republicans to move amid heated words from both sides. But the week’s still young.

Republicans believe Democrats and Democrats alone should raise the debt limit, which would be fine if the Democrats held workable majorities in both the House and the Senate. Last time, the Republicans twice used their beloved filibuster to block efforts to raise the debt limit which required 60 votes.

In October, Republicans wanted Democrats to raise the debt limit through budget reconciliation, a complicated process that neither Biden nor Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer were very keen on – in part because there are only so many times Congress can consider reconciliation bills each year. One has already gone to the Covid bill and the ambitious Build Back Better Act is now before the Senate.

Last time out, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell eventually agreed to a short-term deal that increased the borrowing limit by $480bn – sufficient to prevent the government from defaulting by keeping debt payments up until mid-December.

Which is quite soon, if not so soon as the deadline to fund government itself.

2.44pm GMT

Biden to deliver remarks on Omicron Covid variant

Ahoy there, live blog readers. Let’s strap in for the week, shall we?

Joe Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks at the White House twice today. He’s sure to field questions about supposedly impending economic doom but the main purposes of the remarks will be the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant (first, at 11.45am ET) and issues with the supply chain (second, at 3.45pm ET).

The World Health Organization said this morning Omicron is likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high” global risk where Covid-19 surges could have “severe consequences”.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said. “The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.”

No cases have yet been reported in the US. Press secretary Jen Psaki is scheduled brief too, at 1pm ET.

Congress has plenty on its plate too. We’re on the cusp of December, which for all those keeping score out there means it’s time to once again talk about the possibility of the federal government shutting down and/or disaster over the debt ceiling.

More to come.

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