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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  A Race Against Time
      •  A Biden Misstep: The Refugee Cap
      •  Another Biden Misstep: The Letter
      •  Judgment Day for Trump Is Imminent
      •  Redistricting Is Already a Mess
      •  Be Careful What You Wish For
      •  Jenner Stakes Out Her Territory

A Race Against Time

The moment that everyone saw coming (or should have) is upon us, or soon will be: The supply of vaccination appointments now exceeds demand. Any adult who really wants to be vaccinated can be, and soon nearly all that will be left are folks who range from "lukewarm" to "never, ever, ever."

At the moment, 31.8% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Among adults, that percentage is 40.3%, and among seniors 65+ it is 69.6%. Roughly 44.3% of the population has gotten at least one shot. Undoubtedly, some sizable portion of the folks who have not had their second shot only became eligible recently, and will finish the cycle sometime this month. There are also some folks who only recently became eligible and are still waiting for their first appointment to arrive.

That is progress, any way you put it. It appears that a majority of Americans will be vaccinated by mid-June. If the current pace of vaccination continues, then the U.S. will reach 70% on July 7, and 85% on August 30. Experts aren't exactly sure what number is needed to achieve herd immunity, but most agree it is somewhere between those two signposts. So, if people just kept getting their shots, the U.S. could be back to normal in time for the school year and the holiday season.

But there, of course, is the rub. April 1 was the high point for newly administered vaccine doses, with a total just shy of 4.25 million. Since then, however, there has been a fairly steady decline. In the last week, an average of just 2.51 million new doses per day have been administered. As Dr. Leana Wen points out (and many other physicians agree), failure to achieve herd immunity before the end of the year could prove disastrous. Cold weather means more people indoors, in close quarters, and could create superspreader conditions. Meanwhile, if the disease is still spreading in some places, one or more new variants could emerge, possibly pushing the whole country back a few squares (or even back to square one).

Geographically, things are unfolding pretty much as you would guess. Here are the states that have immunized the largest portions of their population:

State Pct. Vaccinated
Maine 40.2%
Connecticut 40.0%
Vermont 38.7%
New Mexico 38.6%
South Dakota 37.9%
Massachusetts 37.8%
Rhode Island 37.8%
New Jersey 37.0%
Hawaii 36.6%
Wisconsin 36.4%

And here are the states that have immunized the smallest portions of their population:

State Pct. Vaccinated
Idaho 27.9%
Indiana 27.7%
Texas 27.7%
Louisiana 26.6%
Arkansas 26.1%
Georgia 25.4%
Tennessee 25.3%
Utah 24.4%
Alabama 23.8%
Mississippi 23.8%

The states are colored based on which way they went in the 2020 presidential election. As you can see, Biden states are largely leading the way when it comes to vaccination and Trump states are bringing up the rear. If we extended each list to 20, it actually wouldn't change things much. There are two more Trump states (Alaska and Nebraska) ranked 11-20, and there are three more Biden states, plus D.C., ranked 30-39 (New Hampshire, Arizona, and Nevada).

The red state vs. blue state divide is not entirely political, of course. The red states tend to be poorer and more rural, and have fewer hospitals, doctors, drug stores, etc. per capita. And so, the Biden administration is preparing to ramp up efforts to reach folks for whom vaccine access is an issue, or who need things to be made as easy as is humanly possible. Put another way, the low-hanging fruit has largely already been picked, and so the administration will now go after the medium- and high-hanging fruit. That means a fleet of refrigerated "vaccination vans," opening up no-appointment-necessary vaccine clinics in rural and underserved areas, and even door-to-door shot-giving. The administration is calling it, rather appropriately, "ground game." There will be particular focus on young people, people of color, and poor people, all of whom have been disproportionately undervaccinated, for various reasons.

The vaccination efforts will also get another boost in the arm from the fact that the FDA is going to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children 12-15 sometime next week. That will push up the national total, particularly if vaccination is a requirement for returning to school. It's also possible that a few unvaccinated parents will roll up their sleeves, as long as they're there anyhow.

Will this be enough? One can hope, but polls consistently show that 25% of Americans don't intend to be vaccinated. Even if every single other person in the country is reached (not easy), that would leave the country—at best—at the lower end of the herd immunity guesses. Further, given the increasingly disparate paths taken by different states, it is surely the case that some of them would end up at, near, or even above 85%, while others would end up not even in the ballpark of 70%.

In short, a very unpleasant buck is likely to stop at Joe Biden's desk sometime mid-summer, and then he'll have to decide what to do. The White House has given absolutely no indication of what the plan is, at least in part because that could discourage vaccination in the here and now. We can think of a few possibilities, however:

  • The Carrot: Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) has noticed that his state is not doing so well when it comes to vaccination (it would have made the bottom 20 if we'd extended the list above, with 30.9% vaccinated). So, he's announced a program to give $100 savings bonds to any West Virginian age 16-35 who gets their shots. The federal government could do something similar, either in the form of a direct cash payment, or some sort of tax break, or handing out its own savings bonds. Would a $100 bond (which, of course, has a current value of $50) be enough to motivate people in higher-income states? Team Biden might have to step to the plate with a more eye-opening figure ($250? $500?), though that will get costly, and would have to be approved by Congress, of course.

  • The Stick: Right now, Major League Baseball is imposing strict rules on baseball teams with less than an 85% vaccination rate among their personnel, and a much looser set of rules on those teams that clear the 85% hurdle. Biden could pursue something similar, perhaps ordering lockdowns of states that have not reached the 85% cutoff, or cutting some portion of federal funding for those states, or something along those lines. The latter approach worked when it came to compelling Southern states to integrate their schools and their transportation in the 1960s. That said, it would not be popular, might not be doable without Congress (which might not play along), and could be challenged in court.

  • Back-Room Dealing: Biden is a political operator from way back, and perhaps he can find a way to persuade the GOP to get on board the S.S. Vaccination, since they run nearly all of the "problem" states. He might work with them to fashion a carrot of some sort that piques their interest. He could point out to them that if there are outbreaks across the red states, the Party could lose some sizable number of voters that it cannot afford to lose. The risk is especially acute because Republicans are far and away more likely to forgo masks, social distancing, and other risk-reducing practices.

In short, this was already a political issue, and will become even more so with each day that passes.

In an interesting essay published in The New York Times last week, Steven Johnson observes that this is hardly the first time the country (or the world) has been through this song and dance. Between 1920 and 2020, the average human lifespan doubled, thanks to scientists...and politicians. That is to say that every major public-health-advancing discovery that the folks in lab coats made required vigorous effort on the part of government (and journalists, and teachers, and other public-facing folks) for the benefits to be fully realized. And each time, there was significant resistance among some members of the general public. Among the specific examples that Johnson discusses are pasteurization of milk, chlorination of water, the widespread use of penicillin, and the polio vaccine, but there are many others.

In other words, science has done battle with fear/ignorance/superstition/selfishness before, and come out on top with a significant helping hand from the federal government. We can only hope that another victory is imminent. (Z)

A Biden Misstep: The Refugee Cap

The COVID-19 situation is the mother of all political footballs. But not too far behind is immigration policy. And thus far, Joe Biden has earned more negative publicity on that front than any other. Not surprising, then, that the polls suggest Americans are nonplussed; for example, the latest from CNN/SSRS reported that 41% of voters approve of the President's handling of immigration, while 53% disapprove. That puts him 12 points underwater, and makes immigration his worst issue among those polled (though it's just a touch worse than guns, where he's 11 points underwater).

On Monday, Biden took a step meant to right the ship, announcing that the cap on refugees would be set at 62,500 for 2021, a large increase from the 15,000-person cap imposed by Donald Trump. This was in response to rather serious blowback from Democrats after Biden indicated he would not increase the cap in 2021.

Exactly what happened here? The answer depends on whom you believe. The Biden administration says that Trump so thoroughly gutted the refugee system that it will be difficult to qualify 62,500 valid candidates this year, and that a rebuilding of the system is necessary first. Although the cap has now been lifted, the White House is still sticking with this to a large extent, saying that while the country could accept up to 62,500 refugees, there is no guarantee that the ceiling will actually be reached.

The alternative view, put forward by immigration advocates and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, is that the refugee system is still capable of producing 62,500 valid candidates, and that the White House is just making excuses to avoid being excoriated by anti-immigration Republicans. Our guess is that the truth is somewhere in between the White House's account of the situation and the progressives' account. Still, the President hasn't handled things all that effectively. He promised a much higher cap while campaigning, which means that some folks are unhappy, even at 62,500. His shifting back and forth between 15,000 and 62,500 looks flip-floppy. And, of course, he's definitely going to be excoriated by Republicans now.

There is one bit of good news for the administration on this front, however. The number of children held in detention facilities has dropped a remarkable 84% in the last month. Whether the credit goes to Kamala Harris or DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas or someone else, we do not know. But this bodes well for the Biden White House's ability to meet crises when they arise and, along with the increased cap on refugees, could plausibly improve his polling numbers on immigration. (Z)

Another Biden Misstep: The Letter

As long as we're picking on Joe Biden, let us note another recent choice that—while relatively inconsequential—seems like a misstep to us. When the latest round of COVID-19 checks went out, the White House made a point of issuing them without Biden's signature. This stood in contrast to Donald Trump, who delayed the round of checks that went out under his leadership in 2020, just so that his signature would be on them. It was a transparent attempt to buy a few votes with the people's money.

It would seem that Team Biden still wants credit for the money, even if they're not going to use the checks to get it. Instead, the IRS sent out a letter to everyone bearing Biden's signature that talks up the American Recovery Plan and its benefits, and specifically notes that the recipient got X dollars via Y method, where Y is either "direct deposit" or "check." Here is what the letter looks like if you haven't gotten one:

It's a pretty standard letter, as described
in the previous paragraph. The part about the money is underlined, though.

We thought this was tacky when Trump executed his version of it last year, and we think it's tacky now. Further, the letter arrives in an official IRS envelope; surely tens of millions of people thought they were about to be told they'd screwed up their taxes, or that they were being fined, or something like that. Enduring such a scare does not engender warm feelings, particularly when one sees that it's just a form letter inside. Finally, it gives Republicans some political hay, in the form of "how much money did it cost, exactly, to send a letter to 100 million people?" We just don't see how the cost/benefit analysis works out, given these downsides, which is why we say it's a misstep. (Z)

Judgment Day for Trump Is Imminent

No, not in Georgia, or in New York, or in civil/criminal court in any other state, either. This judgment is one that Donald Trump cares much more about than those. After months of consideration, the Facebook Oversight Board—the outside group that Facebook tasked with handling the thorniest policy issues—has reached a decision as to whether Trump was rightly booted from the social media platform or not, and therefore whether he should be allowed back on or not. The decision will be announced this week, likely today or tomorrow.

If Trump's account is restored, that will be very happy news for him. Besides his beloved Twitter, no social media platform has comparable reach, at least among Americans. If he's allowed access again, he will be in an excellent position to resume throwing Molotov cocktails, which will in turn mean more of the publicity he so desperately craves. This would also put some amount of pressure on the other platforms that have banned Trump, including Twitter, and could lead to his return to those platforms, too.

On the other hand, if the gates of Facebook remain shut to The Donald, he's almost certainly finished for good as a meaningful social media presence. His promised social media platform seems to have suffered the same fate as his Obamacare replacement, his plan to get Mexico to fund the wall, etc. Mike "MyPillow" Lindell's platform, Frank, has been a train wreck, as you would expect. Parler has made a comeback, but it's still well below 2 million regular users. So, it's Facebook or bust. (Z)

Redistricting Is Already a Mess

Donald Trump tended to bring chaos to anything he touched, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. One of the things that he definitely wanted to disrupt was the U.S. census. And although he did not achieve his specific goal of causing undocumented immigrants to go uncounted for apportionment purposes, he may ultimately have advanced some of the Republican Party's other goals. Or, maybe not.

The fundamental issue, of course, is that as Trump tried to manipulate the process, he threw it off the rails, resulting in the Census Bureau missing the statutorily required reporting date (Dec. 31) by about 100 days. That set off a chain reaction, as it makes it difficult for states to get new districts drawn in a timely manner, and will most certainly cause some of those states to violate their own statutorily required dates for the completion of redistricting.

As a consequence, the lawsuits are already flying. Some are requests for extensions. Others are based on state deadlines not being met. Still others are proactive, and presume that gerrymander-happy states will be unable or unwilling to draw maps that comport with those states' laws. There are even some that are proactive in the other direction, based on the possibility that the House might pass H.R. 1, and the belief that the bill would be unconstitutional.

The suits are piling up now because court dockets are crowded, and those who don't reserve a place in line may not get one before the 2022 midterms. That said, there are enough suits, and the process has gotten such a late start, and redistricting is so difficult anyhow, that some issues may not be resolved even with such early filings. That may let some states (mostly red ones) get away with obvious racial gerrymanders, at least for one cycle, and perhaps for more. On the other hand, it's also possible that in some places, a court might decide that the 2020 maps will have to be used for one more election, kicking the can down the road to 2024. (Z)

Be Careful What You Wish For

As long as we're on the subject of voting (and possible shenanigans), we will note that the Florida GOP finds itself in a potential pickle. Donald Trump, of course, waged a one-man crusade about voting by mail in 2020, and he continues to insist upon adherence to that orthodoxy (except for himself and his family). Most of the Sunshine State's leading politicians, including Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R), along with most of the Republicans in the legislature, are Trump sycophants who do what they are told. So, Florida is about to sharply cut back on voting by mail in advance of the 2022 election.

There are a couple of problems, however, from the vantage point of Florida's Republican voters. The first is that it's not actually clear that voting by mail helped the Democrats...anywhere. The second is that, in Florida, it may have actually hurt them. The state was one of a handful that had extensive voting by mail prior to the pandemic, and it was very successful...for the GOP. Republican vote by mail turnout was consistently higher than Democratic vote by mail there, and a number of close Republican victories came on the strength of mail-in ballots. Quite a few right-leaning folks have grown accustomed to voting in that fashion, while the state party had developed a very effective and efficient operation that reminded Republican voters to get their ballots in the mail.

Now that voting by mail has been largely cut off at the knees, however, some Florida GOP muckety mucks fear DeSantis & Co. may have shot the Party in the foot. It's possible that Republicans who can no longer mail their ballots in will head to the polls, but maybe not. Perhaps they won't be quite that motivated, or perhaps issues of health or distance will make that problematic. It's a question mark for now, but something worth keeping an eye on, as both DeSantis and Rubio try for reelection. (Z)

Jenner Stakes Out Her Territory

After announcing her candidacy for governor of California, Caitlyn Jenner went silent for a week. That's a pretty unusual—or, should we say amateurish?—choice. After all, the burst of publicity that one gets from announcing a campaign can be used to raise funds, get further media coverage, and possibly attract endorsements. The lack of any sort of communication, campaign events, or news had many political pros suspecting that the whole thing was a put-on after all.

It would seem that Jenner was spending the week figuring out her strategy for the campaign, as she reemerged with a vengeance on Sunday and Monday. She told a reporter for TMZ that she opposes transgender girls competing in girls' sports at school. And then she announced that she will hold a town-hall style conversation with Fox's Sean Hannity, to be broadcast tomorrow.

We're still not 100% persuaded that this is for real, but if it is, then Jenner has clearly committed to an election strategy. She could have dodged the transgender athletes question, at least for now, and she certainly could have avoided dealings with the ultra-Trumpy Hannity. That she did not makes clear that she doesn't expect to win much of the Democratic vote, and instead is making a play for the Republican base. We were dubious that she could win much in the way of crossover votes anyhow, but that possibility became even more remote in the last 72 hours.

It's very possible that is the best approach for Jenner, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a promising one. One problem she's got is that there are certainly some Republicans who are not going to vote for an LGBTQ candidate, no matter how conservative they are. A second is that she's broken with Donald Trump, and isn't going to get his endorsement. A third is that she's a Jenner-come-lately to politics, and she's up against real, legitimate Republicans with actual experience, including Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of the state's second largest city.

A fourth issue is that Jenner is going to end up splitting the vote with those other Republicans. It is true that if Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is recalled, his replacement need not win a majority, just a larger plurality than any other candidate. And in those circumstances, 20% of the vote, or even 15%, might just be enough. However, we remain skeptical the Democrats will take their chances by putting no viable alternative on the ballot. They dithered back in 2003, and then eventually chose a near-Gray Davis clone (albeit a Latino one, in Cruz Bustamante) so that Democrats didn't think of themselves as having an opportunity to "upgrade." They may still do the same this year. Alternatively, some Democrat who does not care what the Party establishment thinks (Tom Steyer?) might jump in. And even if neither of those things happens, the (majority) Democratic vote surely has to devolve upon a very small number of candidates, and one of them might triumph. Porn star Mary Carey could end up on top, just because she's the most recognizable non-Republican name on the ballot. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May03 Biden Wants GOP Support for His Infrastructure Bill "If Possible"
May03 Manchin Believes that D.C. Statehood Requires a Constitutional Amendment
May03 Republicans Threaten Cheney
May03 Giuliani May Have to Choose between Saving His Own Neck or Trump's
May03 Biden Is Giving the Pentagon Back the Money Trump Took for Wall Construction
May03 Poll: 64% of Americans Are Optimistic about the Direction of the Country
May03 Cindy McCain Calls Arizona Election Audit "Ludicrous"
May03 A Battle Is Brewing over the Chairmanship of the South Carolina Republican Party
May03 TX-06: It's Over Before It Starts
May03 Cheri Bustos Will Not Run for Reelection
May02 Sunday Mailbag
May01 Saturday Q&A
Apr30 The Takeaways Are In
Apr30 The Reviews are In, Part I: Joe Biden
Apr30 The Reviews are In, Part II: Tim Scott
Apr30 The Ratings Are In
Apr30 100 Days
Apr30 Trump Says He Would Consider DeSantis for VP
Apr30 Zinke's Back
Apr30 It Would Seem that Trans Rights Are the New Gay Marriage...Maybe
Apr29 Biden Addresses (a Small Bit of) Congress
Apr29 Redistricting Revisited
Apr29 MacDonough Has Become K Street's New Star
Apr29 Two Key Biden Judicial Nominees Testify
Apr29 Feds Search Giuliani's Apartment
Apr29 Fed Will Keep Interest Rates Near Zero
Apr29 Poll: Americans Approve of Biden
Apr29 Kelly and Warnock Are Bellwethers
Apr29 Budd's Bid
Apr28 This Is Not a State of the Union Address
Apr28 This House Isn't Big Enough for the Both of Us?
Apr28 Hundreds of Prominent Businesses Support LGBTQ Equality
Apr28 Send in the Clowns
Apr28 More on the Census
Apr28 More on Crying Wolf
Apr28 No More "Op-Eds" in The New York Times
Apr27 The Returns Are In
Apr27 Supreme Court Pulls the Trigger on Concealed-Carry Case
Apr27 Kerry Enmeshed in Scandal...Maybe
Apr27 And Speaking of Crying Wolf
Apr27 Armenian Genocide Is Now Official (at Least in the U.S.)
Apr27 California Recall Is a Go
Apr27 Trump Endorses Wright in Texas
Apr27 Collins Is Out
Apr26 Biden's Next $2 Trillion "American Families Plan" Will Be Released This Week
Apr26 Redistricting Is Upon Us
Apr26 Biden Is Still Popular
Apr26 Poll: Reaction to Chauvin Verdict Is Partisan
Apr26 Walker Freezes Georgia
Apr26 Caitlyn Jenner Is Running for Governor of California