Covid: Biden says to beat Omicron variant ‘we have to shut it down worldwide’ – as it happened
Thanks for reading along this Friday evening. Here’s some of what we covered:
- The new Covid variant Omicron may have picked up genetic material from the virus that causes the common cold during one of its mutations, a new study shows. The study is not yet peer-reviewed and more research is needed to better under the strain.
- Former Trump ally Jeffrey Clark claimed a medical condition is making him unable to testify before the House select committee investigating the 6 Jan Capitol attack.
- Omicron has now been documented in 11 US states. The strain spreads quickly but health officials say Delta is still the top concern going into the winter holiday season.
See you next time!
Updated at 3.19am GMT
Uncertainty about the fast-spreading Omicron variant showed up on Wall Street today, and the major indexes closed lower as a result, Reuters reports .
Following the Labor Department report that showed promising job growth and a drop in the unemployment rate, the CBOE Market Volatility index — which is looked at for indications of investor jitters — was the highest it’s been since late January.
The new Covid virus strain also caused the International monetary Fund to consider lowering its global economic growth estimates.
“A new variant that may spread very rapidly can dent confidence, and in that sense, we are likely to see some downgrades of our October projections for global growth,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.
Omicron now detected in 11 states
The new Covid variant — which some scientists say spread twice as fast as Delta — has now been reported in 11 states. New cases were also confirmed in New Jersey, Missouri, Utah, Nebraska, Maryland, and Pennsylvania on Friday. The new strain had already been detected in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota and New York.
“The Omicron variant is among us and we need to take steps to stop its spread,” New Jersey governor Phil Murphy said in a statement Friday confirming the state’s first case — reportedly a fully-vaccinated woman who recently traveled to South Africa. “It is vital that residents remain as vigilant as possible as we await more information about the variant,” he added urging residents to get vaccinated and continue wearing masks in public.
New Jersey has seen a spike in cases recently, reaching the highest number of daily infections in the last eight months.
The Delta variant still accounts for almost all of the cases in the country and health officials said that that version of the virus is still the top concern.
Omicron has been spreading quickly in South Africa, where it was first discovered by scientists, offering a glimpse into how it might travel through populations around the world, the Associated Press reports . South African scientists also found that it has greater potential to reinfect people who have already gotten Covid than previous strains.
Updated at 12.49am GMT
The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack announced that former Trump justice department official Jeffrey Clark would not testify on Saturday, after he claimed a medical condition precluded him from appearing at a deposition.
The move by Clark comes days after the select committee granted him a last minute reprieve and held off recommending him for criminal prosecution for ignoring a subpoena in exchange for testifying before House investigators.
But the night before his scheduled deposition date, Clark informed the select committee that he could not appear after all.
“Through his attorney, Mr Clark has informed the select committee of a medical condition that precludes his participation in tomorrow’s meeting,” Tim Mulvey, a spokesman for the select committee said in a statement. “He has provided ample evidence of his claim.”
The select committee said Clark’s deposition would be postponed until 16 December.
Updated at 11.41pm GMT
The extensively mutated Omicron variant possibly picked up some genetic material from the virus that causes the common cold during one of its mutations, according to a new study that has yet to be peer-reviewed.
There are competing scientific theories about the mutations and more research is needed to better understand the new variant, but Reuters reports that researchers of this study believe the mutation could have come from an individual infected with both viruses and it could help the virus evade immune system attacks. The genetic sequence found in this version of the virus – but not in previous ones – also appears in the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the human genome.
Health officials have been alarmed by the number of mutations observed in the Omicron variant, which has far more than its predecessors. Questions still remain about how easily the new version of the virus will spread and how severe the symptoms caused by it will be. But the new research suggests it might move more quickly but do less damage.
- This post was updated to provide additional context about the study.
Updated at 3.27am GMT
Hello! I am Gabrielle Canon checking in from the west coast to take you through the rest of the evening’s news.
Even with the latest discovery of the Omicron variant – which has been documented in eight states across the US as of Friday – health officials still consider Delta to be the top concern going into the winter holidays.
Today Missouri, Nebraska, Maryland, and Pennsylvania each reported cases of the new strain , Reuters reports , joining California, New York, Minnesota, and Hawaii.
Omicron is believed to be more contagious but initial reports indicate it may be less severe than previous variants of Covid.
More from Reuters:
Nebraska had six confirmed cases , the state’s health department said. Only one of the six people was vaccinated and none have needed to be hospitalized with Covid-19, the department added.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced the first three cases of the Omicron variant in his state, adding that none of the three individuals were hospitalized. And in Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia man in his 30s tested positive for Omicron, city health officials said.
Walensky and other health experts said the best way to fight the spread of Covid-19, regardless of the strain, remains to get vaccinated. ”
Updated at 11.00pm GMT
It was a slow close do the work week in Washington. Here’s where things stand so far this afternoon.
- Biden signed into law a bill that will fund the government through February, averting a government shutdown – at least for now.
- Biden’s doctor said the president’s raspy voice was the result of a “frog in one’s throat”. In a memo, Dr Kevin O’Connor, affirmed that Biden was tested three times for Covid-19 and each result was negative.
- Psaki said the White House was preparing a range of options to deter Russian aggression as tension escalate at the border with Ukraine. She said a call between Biden and Putin was under consideration.
- Biden is scheduled to depart for Camp David on Friday evening and return on Sunday to attend the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.
And here’s a video of Biden cheekily blaming his affectionate baby grandson for giving him a cold.
Updated at 10.16pm GMT
Democrats and abortion rights advocates are promising a showdown over the issue in next year’s midterms as the Supreme Court appears poised to undermine – and possibly overturn – longstanding legal precedent enshrining a constitutional right to the procedure.
Already, vulnerable Democrats running in competitive races next year are highlighting the issue as strategists point to polling that strong majorities want Roe, the 1973 supreme court ruling, to remain the law of the land.
For Democrats, it’s something of a political silver lining in an otherwise nightmare scenario. But a decision weakening or overruling Roe could also be a galvanizing force in next year’s midterm elections, as Democrats promise to defend abortion rights against Republican-led efforts to eliminate them.
“It’s earth-shattering,” said Jenny Lawson, vice-president of organizing and engagement campaigns for Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “The court’s actions are going to change the way people think about reproductive freedom and how essential it is. It will be a driving force of the election, undoubtedly.”
Joe Biden reassures reporters that his raspy voice is ‘just a cold’:
Trump official to plead the fifth to Capitol attack committee
Former Trump lawyer John Eastman, who was connected to efforts to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election win on 6 January, will plead the fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination before the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack, writes Hugo Lowell.
The move by Eastman, communicated in a letter to the select committee by his attorney, is an extraordinary step and appears to suggest a growing fear among some of Trump’s closest advisers that their testimony may implicate them in potential criminality.
“Dr Eastman has a more than reasonable fear that any statements he makes pursuant to this subpoena will be used in an attempt to mount a criminal investigation against him,” Eastman’s lawyer, Charles Burnham, told the select committee in a letter on Wednesday.
The select committee issued a subpoena to Eastman last month as they sought to uncover the extent of his role in Trump’s scheme to prevent Biden from being certified as president and return himself to office for a second term despite losing the 2020 election.
House investigators also took an interest in Eastman after it emerged that he played an integral part in a 4 January Oval Office meeting where he presented a memo advising then vice-president Mike Pence about ways to stop and delay Biden’s certification from taking place.
Updated at 9.55pm GMT
The employees were all located in Uganda and included some foreign service officers, a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation told the AP.
Guardian reporter Stephanie Kirchgaessner, who has reported doggedly on the NSO Group, says the reports raise “serious questions about the use of Israeli surveillance tools against US government officials around the world.”
The claim, which was reported by Reuters, comes just weeks after the Biden administration placed NSO on a US blacklist and said the surveillance company acted “contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the US”.
In a hearing related to the defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump, lawyers for the former president argued that the US government should “take his place as the defendant” in the case brought by writer E Jean Carroll , who has accused him of rape.
According to his lawyers, Trump isn’t trying to skirt responsibility, hardly. Instead, his interest lies in protecting future presidents.
The former president’s attorneys told the judges he isn’t trying to dodge personal liability in the lawsuit by Carroll, who has spoken publicly about her allegations. He just wants to keep future presidents from being burdened by legal claims, they said.
This is not political. This is not about being a Democrat or a Republican. It is solely to protect the presidency as an institution, ” attorney Alina Habba said.
Asked about a Reuters report that the phones of several state department employees were hacked by the Israel-based NSO Group, Psaki said the White House was aware.
“We have been acutely concerned that commercial spyware like NSO group software poses a serious counterintelligence and security risk to US personnel,” Psaki said.
She was also asked about Biden’s efforts on gun control in light of a deadly school shooting in Michigan, that left four students dead. Psaki said it remained a “core issue for the president” but didn’t offer a strategy for passing legislation stalled in Congress.
Updated at 8.45pm GMT
Psaki demurred on questions about the filibuster, which Biden has expressed an openness to reforming but does not support eliminating. In light of the supreme court hearing earlier this week, in which the conservative justices expressed support for undermining Roe, activists have called on the administration to abolish the filibuster to codify abortion rights in federal law.
Psaki restated Biden’s support for the Women’s Health Protection Act, which passed the House in September but faces daunting odds in the Senate.
The filibuster is also a barrier to passing a voting rights legislation which is stalled in the Senate.
Psaki also clarified Biden’s remarks from earlier today when he said he was tested for Covid every day. She said the protocol has not changed, meaning he is not tested daily.
The president is proceeding with his schedule despite the cold, she said. To treat the symptoms, he is taking over-the-counter cold medication and “probably some cough drops and some tea.”
Updated at 7.25pm GMT
Psaki was asked about rising tensions at the border between Russia and Ukraine. Earlier Biden had said his national security team was preparing a “meaningful set of initiatives” to address the escalating situation.
“We want to make sure that we are prepared,” Psaki said. “ We know what president Putin has done in the past. we see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order and should he decide to invade that is why we want to be prepared.”
She said the administration has a “range of tools at our disposal” for pressuring Russia to lower the temperatures, including additional economic sanctions. She said the US would work with allies on a response.
The White House has been “engaged in the possibility of a call” with the Russian leader, Psaki said. The call, she added, would be an “opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the bellicose rhetoric about the military build up that we’re seeing at the border with Ukraine.”
Asked about Russia’s desire for assurances that Ukraine will not be allowed to join Nato, Psaki said it was not up to Russia to decide who is and isn’t a part of the alliance.
“It’s important to remember where the provocative action is coming from at this time,” she said. “It’s not the United States. It’s not Ukraine.”
Updated at 7.23pm GMT
White House briefing begins
We’re now tuning into the press briefing, where Jen Psaki has taken to the podium. She began by highlighting the president’s jobs record, and noted that unemployment had fallen in the last month.
She also announced that the Biden’s will return from Camp David on Sunday to host the Kennedy Center honorees reception and will then attend the 44th Kennedy Center honors, restoring a presidential tradition that Trump ignored. Psaki also said Biden would deliver remarks on Monday about how the Build Back Better Act, currently pending before the Senate, would lower the cost of prescription drug prices.
Biden signs funding bill into law, averts shutdown
Biden officially signed into law the “Further Extending Government Funding Act,” which includes a short-term continuing resolution that funds federal agencies through 18 February.
The bill includes supplemental funding for support of Afghanistan evacuees and extends several expiring authorizations.
In a press release, the White House again thanked Congressional leaders and a bipartisan group of Senators for reaching a deal and averting a shutdown at midnight.
“Thank you to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chairman Patrick Leahy, Vice Chairman Richard Shelby, and Chair Rosa DeLauro,” the White House said.
Updated at 6.57pm GMT
Biden's doctor: president experiencing a 'frog in one's throat'
Biden’s physician, Dr Kevin O’Connor, said the president is experiencing increased nasal congestion, known colloquially as a “frog in ones throat.”
According to a memo released by the White House and signed by O’Connor, Biden was tested three times for Covid this week and separately tested for respiratory pathogens such as flu & strep. All came back negative.
Treatment for his cold will include “common, over the counter medications” for symptoms.
Biden was asked earlier if he was “ok”. He laughed off the question, and said he believes he contracted the cold from his grandson.
Updated at 6.54pm GMT
Lawyer and associate of Donald Trump John Eastman as indicated he is asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the investigation by the special House committee investigating events surrounding the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6 by extremist Trump supporters.
“Dr. Eastman hereby asserts his Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against himself in response to your subpoena,” attorney Charles Burnham wrote earlier this week in a letter on behalf of Eastman and sent to the chair of that bipartisan committee, Mississippi Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson.
Eastman was subpoenaed by the committee last month.
House investigators are taking a special interest in Eastman after it emerged that he outlined scenarios for overturning the election in a memo for a 4 January White House meeting that included Trump, the former vice-president Mike Pence and Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, Hugo Lowell previously reported for Guardian US.
Burnham’s letter continues: “Members of this very Committee have openly spoken of making criminal referrals to the Department of Justice and described the Committee’s work in terms of determining “guilt or innocence...
“Dr. Eastman has a more than reasonable fear that any statements he makes pursuant to this subpoena will be used in an attempt to mount a criminal investigation against him.”
Politico further reports today:
Eastman’s decision is an extraordinary assertion by someone who worked closely with Trump to attempt to overturn the 2020 election results. He met with Trump and pushed state legislative leaders to reject Biden’s victory in a handful of swing states and appoint alternate electors to the Electoral College, effectively denying Biden’s victory.
The former Chapman University law professor also pressured Pence, who is constitutionally required to preside over the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6, to unilterally refuse to count some of Biden’s electors and send the election to the full House for a vote — or delay long enough to give states a chance to submit new electors.
Eastman also spoke at Trump’s Jan. 6 rally alongside Rudy Giuliani.
Most of Burnham’s letter makes procedural objections to the structure of the Jan. 6 committee...
...Eastman, who’s also a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, would be the second known Jan. 6 committee witness to plead the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination. The other, former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark, revealed his decision to the Jan. 6 panel on the same day Burnham sent his letter. After Clark’s last-minute decision, the committee scheduled a Saturday deposition to permit him to formally assert his Fifth Amendment rights and to discuss whether they accept it as a legitimate invocation.
Eastman may face similar questions.
The busy Friday in US politics continues but here’s where things stand so far.
- House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said the Islamophobic remarks by Republican congresswoman Laura Boebert and Majorie Taylor Greene hurt the party as it tries to keep the focus on discontent over the economy and other problems facing the Biden administration .
- Joe Biden said that to successfully confront the new Omicron coronavirus variant and curb the pandemic in the US, it was necessary to combat it around the world. “In order to beat Covid, we have to shut it down worldwide,” the US president said.
- The US president will soon sign into law the short-term government funding bill before the midnight deadline, averting a government shutdown.
- The US economy added 210,000 jobs in November, less than half the jobs growth that economists had expected.
McCarthy opened his weekly press conference on an optimistic note, gloating over the number of House Democrats who have announced their retirement.
He was especially gleeful about the retirement of congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the chairman of the transportation and infrastructure committee, who said this week that he will not seek re-election after more than three decades in Congress.
“It’s different when a committee chair announces retirement,” McCarthy said. “Can’t blame ’em for announcing retirement, but he is now the 19th Democrat to announce retirement.”
He said it was a clear sign that Democrats know “they’re not going to be in the majority the next time”.
Democrats face daunting odds as they try to keep control of their congressional majorities, weighed down by Biden’s low approval ratings, economic discontent, Republican gerrymandering and the historical pattern of the president’s party losing ground in the midterm elections.
Updated at 5.41pm GMT
Islamophobic remarks by Republican House right-wingers hurt party - McCarthy
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said the Islamophobic remarks by Republican congresswoman Laura Boebert and Majorie Taylor Greene hurt the party as it tries to keep the focus on discontent over the economy and other problems facing the Biden administration.
He called the comments by the lawmakers “things we would not want to deal with”.
But McCarthy has so far chosen not to take action against his own members, leaving it to Democrats to respond. House Democrats stripped Greene of her committee assignments earlier this year over violent and bigoted comments she made before being elected, and last month censured Arizona congressman Paul Gosar for sharing an anime video that depicted him killing congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He was also stripped of his committee assignments. Nearly all Republicans opposed the sanction.
But McCarthy acknowledged their rhetoric could cause political problems for the party. “Things that the American people want to focus on – stopping inflation, gas prices and others – anything that deviates that causes problems,” he said.
He said Boebert’s apology to congresswoman Ilhan Omar should be sufficient, after the Colorado congresswoman made a joke about terrorism when sharing an elevator with Omar, who is Muslim. Boebert apologized to “anyone in the Muslim community” in a post on Twitter and then called Omar to apologize personally, McCarthy said. But Omar said the call was “unproductive” and implored McCarthy to “actually hold his party accountable”.
Asked how the situation involving Boebert differs from the one involving former congressman Steve King, who was removed by the Republican leader from his committee assignments in 2019 after making comments supportive of white nationalism, McCarthy again insisted that Boebert’s apology was the right course of action.
For more on this discussion, listen to this week’s episode of Politics Weekly, where the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland speaks to Dr Abdul El-Sayed about Islamophobia in American politics
Updated at 6.02pm GMT
After their remarks, the members of the taskforce took a handful of questions from reporters. Fauci was asked when scientists will have a better understanding of the risks posed by the Omicron variant. He said they would have a clearer picture in the “next few weeks”.
But he said it could take longer to understand the impact of Omicron and whether it will overtake Delta as the dominant strain in the US.
“We really don’t know what’s going to happen – how well it is going to compete or not compete with Delta,” he said, explaining that the CDC has the capacity to determine this.
Updated at 4.57pm GMT
We will now shift to cover the coronavirus taskforce briefing, where public health officials are giving an update on the Omicron variant.
The CDC director, Dr Rochelle Walensky, begins by reminding Americans that while much of the coverage is focused on the Omicron variant, nearly all new cases in the United States were caused by the Delta variant.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president, implored Americans to get vaccinated. While more information is needed to better understand the transmissibility and severity of the variant, Fauci said there was strong evidence to suggest vaccines would provide a degree of protection against it, citing in vitro studies that indicate the boosters increase “antibody titers against a wide range of variants.”
“There’s every reason to believe that if you get vaccinated and boosted you would have at least some degree of cross protection, very likely against severe disease, even against the Omicron variant,” he said.
“The Omicron variant is a cause for concern, not panic,” said Jeff Zients , the president’s Covid-19 response coordinator, adding that vaccines “clearly remain our most important tool.”
He said the US was making progress: 2.2m shots were administered on Thursday, the highest single day total since May.
Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, outlined the administration’s efforts to educate Americans about the importance of vaccines and combat the misinformation circulating online and on social media.
He said the administration was committed to trying all forms of communications – email, phone banking, texts, podcasts, letters, social media, news paper ads – “everything short of carrier pigeons”, he said. The information will also be published in several languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Haitian Creole, Arabic and Russian.
“The goal is really to leave no stone unturned as we seek to reach people with live saving information,” he said.
He also urged parents to vaccinate their children, as he did with his five-year-old son. He said his son was nervous about getting the shot, but was “all smiles after.”
Updated at 4.57pm GMT
Biden: “In order to beat Covid, we have to shut it down worldwide"
Biden is now answering questions from the press.
The first up is a question from Fox News’ Peter Doocy who noted the president’s raspy voice. “Are you OK?”
Chuckling, Biden said he was. He said he was tested every day for Covid and was certain he had not contracted the virus.
“What I have is a 1-and-a-half year old grandson who had a cold who likes to kiss his pop,” Biden said. “It’s just a cold.”
To successfully confront the virus in the US, Biden said it was necessary to combat it around the world.
“It’s going to take time worldwide,” he said. “In order to beat Covid, we have to shut it down worldwide ... We’re doing everything that needs to be done to take care of the American people within our borders. But look what’s happened. We’re starting to make some real progress and you find out there’s another strain. And the idea that you can build a wall around America to keep any Covid from around the world out is not there.”
Asked whether he was considering imposing vaccine requirements for domestic travel, Biden said not at this point. He believes the protocols in place are sufficient for international travel.
In response to the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Biden said his national security team was preparing a “meaningful set of initiatives” to make it more difficult for Vladimir Putin to “go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.”
Updated at 6.01pm GMT
Addressing the November job’s report, Biden begins with the good news first, pointing to the unemployment rate falling to 4.2% and the 6m jobs created since he took office.
He credited his administration’s coronavirus stimulus plan for helping rush relief to American families hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Even after accounting for rising prices, the typical American family has more money in their pockets than they did last year,” he said. But he acknowledged that more help was needed.
“It’s not enough to know that we’re making progress,” he continued. “You need to see it and feel it in your own lives.”
Biden said controlling the pandemic was critical to the nation’s economic recovery. He urged Americans to get vaccinated if they not yet done so and for adults who have been fully vaccinated to get their booster shot and take their eligible children to get inoculated.
Biden also touted actions by his administration to ease supply chain shortages and lower gas prices. “In the meantime, I’ve used every tool available to address price increases and it’s beginning to work,” he said.
He then made the case for his social policy package, arguing that it would relieve economic pressures on American families by bringing down health care costs and making childcare, senior care and education more affordable.
Biden to sign short-term funding bill to avert shutdown
After a slight delay, Biden is speaking now on the November jobs report. He opened his remarks by saying he would soon sign into law the short-term government funding bill before the midnight deadline, averting a government shutdown.
“Funding the government isn’t a great achievement,” Biden said with a wry chuckle. “it’s the bare minimum of what we need to get done. BUT in these times bipartisan cooperation is worth recognition.” He thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , and Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell for reaching a deal and the Senate for a bipartisan vote to fund federal agencies.
Updated at 3.56pm GMT
An updated White House advisory announced that the White House Covid-19 response taskforce would hold a press conference at 11am, as cases of the Omicron variant continue are identified across the US and scientists caution that much is still unknown about its severity and transmissibility.
The guidance also advised that the president would delay by three hours his departure from the White House to Camp David, where he will spend the weekend.
The president was due to speak at 10.15am, but the White House has pushed back the remarks, according to a White House pool reporter.
Updated at 3.45pm GMT
Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist Democratic holdout on Biden’s agenda, declined to say whether she would support the president’s sprawling social policy package in an interview with CNN on Thursday.
Asked if she was prepared to vote “yes” when the legislation is brought to the Senate floor, perhaps as early as this month, the senator demurred.
“I am always prepared to vote and to vote for what’s right for the interests of Arizona,” she said.
Sinema, along with West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, has emerged as a key player in negotiations over the bill, which has been trimmed and tailored to meet their policy demands. Biden needs the support of all 50 Democrats or the legislation will not pass the Senate.
In the interview, Sinema also responds to a number of other questions about her reputation as a political “enigma” and her sinking approval among Democratic voters in Arizona.
Asked about the criticism from progressives that she is not forthcoming about her policy views. Far from inscrutable, Sinema effectively called herself a “straight-shooter”. The issue, in her view, was not one of frankness but of understanding.
“ I think I’m very direct. I am very upfront when I talk to folks about what I believe in, what I can support and what I can’t support. I think there are some people who just don’t like what they’re hearing and maybe they use other terms to describe it, ” she said.
Responding to her Democratic critics in Arizona, Sinema said she was legislating the way she promised she would during her campaign, when she ran to be senator of a swing state that hadn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in decades: as a moderate willing to work with Republicans.
Voting rights advocates are increasingly alarmed by the White House’s apparent lack of strategy to abolish the filibuster and pass critical legislation protecting and expanding access to the ballot box.
The Guardian’s Sam Levine reports that advocates came away from a November 15 meeting between the White House and the leaders of hundreds of voting rights organization, and included a brief appearance by the vice president Kamala Harris, without any clear indication of how the president and his team planned to move the stalled elections bills through the Senate.
The vice-president, who is leading the White House’s voting rights effort, arrived midway through the meeting and read just over six minutes of prepared remarks and then left without taking any questions, according to people who attended.
White House staffers stayed on the call and answered three questions from participants. “They did not lay out a strategy for getting this done,” said one person who attended, who requested anonymity to discuss a private meeting.
Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, also attended the meeting and said it felt like a “check-the-box kind of a call”.
“Nothing substantive came out of it,” he said. “It was very frustrating.”
A third participant was also critical of the way the White House handled the meeting.
“She said her five-minute remarks, which were the ‘same-old, same old’, and then she left”, said the person, who also requested that their name not be disclosed.
Advocates were sympathetic to the delicate position Harris was in, leading the White House’s efforts on an issue that Democrats have said is a priority but currently has no clear legislative path forward.
“The worst situation to be in is to have responsibility without authority. And right now that is the definition of her [Harris’] voting rights portfolio. She’s got responsibility, but she does not have the authority to deal with the elephant in the room, the filibuster,” Albright told Sam.
“She cannot go any farther out on the issue than her boss, Potus, is willing to go. And he has not yet demonstrated that he’s willing to go as far as he needs to.”
US economy added 210,000, far below expectations
The US economy added 210,000 jobs in November, less than half the jobs growth that economists had expected , the Guardian’s Dominic Rushe reports. The data was compiled before the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant that now threatens to derail the economic recovery from the pandemic.
The unemployment rate dropped to 4.2% as employers added jobs in business services, transportation, warehousing and construction. The overall gain was less than half the 500,000 plus jobs that economists had expected to be added over the month.
November’s jobs report comes after the US added 531,000 in October, a sharp increase after a slowdown in hiring triggered by the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant over the summer.
It remains to be seen whether the Omicron variant will have a similar damping effect on the jobs market. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) thinktank warned this week that Omicron and rising inflation could prove significant threats to the global economy.
Last month’s jobs report provided Biden with a much-needed, and unexpected, bout of good news. In remarks then, he championed his agenda as the engine behind the US’ strong economic recovery.
Now, under attack from Republicans over the rising cost of gas and other consumer goods, and with the impact of the Omicron variant still unknown, Biden must make the case to skeptical Democrats in the Senate that it’s wise to spend nearly $2tn more on his social policy package amid the continued economic uncertainty.
Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of all things politics.
Hot off the presses this morning: the November jobs report that shows the economy added 210,000 jobs, far fewer than expected. We’ll have more in the next hour, when Joe Biden gives remarks on the report.
Members of Congress left Washington last night after accomplishing the most basic task of governance: keeping the federal government running. It wasn’t assured and some Republicans were threatening to force a shutdown over opposition to the administration’s private-sector vaccine mandates. But a deal was struck, a vote was held, and one looming crisis was averted, at least until February.
Throughout the day, we’re keeping on eye on the aforementioned presidential remarks on the economy at 10.15am. Jen Psaki will brief reporters at 1.30pm.
Updated at 2.15pm GMT