The stakes are particularly high for President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress, who are looking to deliver some big wins for Americans ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
The US is entering 2022 with a familiar pandemic anxiety.
Across the country, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has impacted businesses, transportation and emergency services. “Omicron is truly everywhere,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine professor at Brown University’s School of Public Health.
“What I am so worried about over the next month or so is that our economy is going to shut down — not because of policies from the federal government or from the state governments, but rather because so many of us are ill.”
But the circumstances are rapidly evolving. The US may be past the peak of Omicron cases around the end of January, some experts say; 2022 may even be when the coronavirus becomes “part of our background” as it comes and goes, Dr. Ofer Levy told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota last week.
“I think it’s likely that we’ll see this wave come and go and that the spring and summer will look a lot better than right now looks to us,” said Levy, director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “There will be fewer cases, and then again, next fall and winter we’ll see a spike of viral illnesses, coronaviruses, influenza and others, but that it’ll be more like an endemic cycle.”
“It will be a better winter — just like this winter, with all of the challenges, is still better than the winter before.”
The White House, meanwhile, is expected to soon unveil details about the rollout of the 500 million free at-home tests Biden promised all Americans who request one, though a series of questions about the logistics and capacity of the program remain unanswered.
But arguably the most consequential pandemic decision for the year ahead is out of Biden’s hands. The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Friday in the cases challenging his administration’s vaccine requirements for large employers and certain health care workers.
The Biden administration has said it will not begin enforcing the employer mandate until January 10, and the government has said it’s not implementing the health care worker mandate while the legal challenges play out.
The White House said last month that it is “confident in the legal authority for both policies.”
Social safety net
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a key swing vote, dealt his party a major blow when he announced in late December that he was a “no” on the Build Back Better Act, legislation championed by Biden to expand the social safety net and fight the climate crisis.
Now, Democratic leaders have to figure out what happens next. They are vowing not to give up, but it’s not yet clear what Democrats might be able to accomplish.
Biden has said that he still thinks “there’s a possibility of getting Build Back Better done” and has insisted that he and Manchin will “get something” finished after the West Virginia moderate undercut the President’s agenda. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that Democrats “will not let this opportunity pass.”
“President Biden, who I have worked for for many years … has a habit of pulling legislative rabbits out of hats. And has done so many times,” said Jared Bernstein, one of the President’s top economists, on CNN. “He is not by any means done fighting for Build Back Better. When I talk to him about that, he has some confidence about that.”
But CNN has reported that Manchin has indicated that he would not quickly get behind a scaled-back version of the plan, arguing that it should instead go through the committee process before trying to move it through the Senate via the filibuster-proof reconciliation process.
That position underlines the major hurdles ahead for Democrats if they hope to advance even a narrow version of the legislation before the midterms in November.
January 6 investigation
The House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is poised for a consequential year as the sprawling investigation nears a more public phase.
The panel is working toward a goal of releasing an interim report with initial findings by this summer, a committee aide told CNN, with a final report following in fall 2022. And committee members have said that they hope to hold public hearings that outline the story of what occurred on January 6, though the specific timing of these hearings has not yet been set.
“There’s a belief that a lot of what happened on that day wasn’t a comedy of errors, but a planned, coordinated effort. And so our hearings will determine whether or not what occurred on January 6 was a comedy of errors or a planned effort on the part of certain individuals,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the panel, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
In the meantime, the committee has issued a long list of subpoenas in an effort to find out information and seek testimony — and has taken steps to show there will be consequences for non-compliance.
The committee has also begun the process of holding former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark in contempt of Congress but has paused that process to give him one more chance to testify in front of the committee since he has stated that he intends to claim Fifth Amendment protection.
Still, as Democrats look ahead to what could be a challenging midterm election, the party is publicly and privately gauging the political application of the violent insurrection. Some in the party, without dismissing the gravity of the attacks, argue that Democrats needs to prioritize other issues on the campaign trail.
“Most everyday people are worried about their kids getting a good education, worried about getting paid for, making sure their roads are fixed, being able to connect to high-speed internet,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, said in December. “The political process issues, I’ve never been a real fan of making them a central part of messaging.”
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