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.
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
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.
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.”