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March 31, 2022
What A Day
BA.2 The Bone

In This Episode

  • The Biden administration will reportedly end its use of Title 42 by late May. The policy effectively acted as a suspension of the legal asylum process, and has been viewed as inhumane by immigration activists.
  • The BA.2 Omicron subvariant is now the dominant COVID strain in the U.S. This comes as many states begin to close mass vaccination and testing sites that were vital throughout the pandemic. Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist & epidemiologist, joins us to give us her perspective on the matter.
  • And in headlines: Russian forces are moving away from two Ukrainian cities, Arizona Republican Governor Doug Doucey signed a bill that outlaws abortion after 15 weeks, and Republican Senator Susan Collins said that she plans to vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

 

Show Notes:

 

 

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Transcript

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, March 31st. I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, reminding you to not do cocaine around Madison Cawthorn unless you want him to tell on you.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes. Cawthorn recently told a podcast about the cocaine and orgies that his 70-year old colleagues in D.C. are apparently obsessed with. And if you’re not careful, you could be his next target.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: You do not do anything illegal or cool while Madison is nearby.

 

Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, what to know about the Omicron sub variant BA-2. Plus Russian troops have started to move away from two Ukrainian cities.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: But first, there is news on a story we covered earlier this week: Title 42. This is a Trump-era health policy that allowed immigration officials to immediately turn away migrants at our border because of the pandemic. However, the Biden administration had been clinging onto it. Gideon, what happened yesterday with this?

 

Gideon Resnick: Some pretty big news yesterday. The Biden administration will reportedly end its use of the policy by late May, the 23rd to be exact. The decision is not final final yet, but the Wall Street Journal reported that the CDC plans to issue an order later this week that is going to formalize it. So what we know now is all based on unnamed officials and a draft that certain publications like the Journal have seen. So the delay in the full implementation here is apparently so that the Department of Homeland Security can prepare for the possibility of more migrants arriving.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: So this news is a major win for immigration activists who saw Title 42 being used in ways that many called cruel.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. The policy effectively acted as a suspension of the legal asylum process, and it has been viewed, like you said, as inhumane by a lot of people and frankly nonsensical by others, including public health officials, who have often said that it wouldn’t serve its stated purpose of preserving public health during the pandemic. It’s proven difficult that you can’t build a border that keeps out a virus.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Not how it works.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. According to The Washington Post, the majority of all of these kinds of expulsions where people are rapidly sent back to their home countries have actually taken place under the Biden administration. A disproportionate number, according to Human Rights Watch, have been Black, indigenous, or Latino. And there have been thousands of documented reports of the violence they face after being expelled.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Really bad stuff. We will certainly be following this as it progresses in the next few days and weeks. And on the same note, the Biden administration said that it’s beginning to vaccinate migrants who claim asylum at the southern border. Biden also urged more COVID aid from Congress on Wednesday. Here is a little bit of what he said:

 

[clip of President Biden] If Congress fails to act, we won’t have the supply we need this fall to ensure the shots are available free, easily accessible for all Americans. Even worse, if we need a different vaccine for the future to combat a new variant, we’re not going to have enough money to purchase it. We cannot allow that to happen.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Ooof. Yikes. Gideon, what else did he have to say?

 

Gideon Resnick: Really, that we need more money. Biden said the shortfall also affects testing and therapeutics, right at this moment, where mitigation restrictions have basically been lifted everywhere in the country. Free testing is gone for many Americans without health insurance now, and many states are beginning to close these mass vaccination and testing sites that were pretty vital throughout the pandemic. Additionally, some states like Arizona, Hawaii, Ohio, and Nevada have reportedly stopped releasing daily metrics like case counts and hospitalizations. So definitely a strange moment that we’re in.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. And I mean, like all of these could be good signs if you know, we weren’t currently dealing with this BA-2 Omicron sub-variant that is now the dominant strain of COVID in this country, clearly not going away. For more perspective on this, we spoke earlier to infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist Dr. Celine Gounder. She is also a Senior Fellow and Editor at Large for Public Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation and Kaiser Health News. We started by asking her what we know about the difference between BA-2 versus the original Omicron variant.

 

Celine Gounder: What we know so far is it is indeed more transmissible. It is more contagious and spreads more easily from person to person. We can certainly expect more people to get infected, especially as people are lowering their guard. Secondly, is it virulent? And what we are seeing with BA-2 is it’s similarly virulent, similarly disease-causing as the original Omicron. And then finally, is it immune evading? And so BA-2, depending on the population and how much of the original Omicron they experienced, may or may not lead to a big surge.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and that’s a really interesting point that I was actually about to ask because both of us had previously had Omicron, a lot of people we know had previously had it, or what we believe to be Omicron—obviously, we don’t get any sort of explicit result saying so. So like given all of that, how should people in the U.S. be kind of assessing BA-2 on a day-to-day basis right now?

 

Celine Gounder: If you got infected in December, January, or sometime after that, it probably was Omicron, and that immunity you would get from Omicron, that boost in immunity again, probably gives you three to four months of protection against infection. But really importantly, also, if you are not yet vaccinated, that also makes a big difference in terms of whether you’re susceptible here. And the populations that me and other doctors and public health experts are concerned about are older people, people with immunocompromised conditions or other underlying medical conditions who are not yet vaccinated and boosted. These are the people for whom a BA-2 surge could be really deadly.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. So I’m curious about the points of comparison. Are the ones in Europe salient at all? Should we be making that comparison?

 

Celine Gounder: Well, we can usually look to Europe and get a forecast of what may happen here in the US in about three to four weeks. But there are some differences. With respect to the types of vaccines that they’ve used, they have used a little bit more AstraZeneca vaccine is not as robust. The other thing that we’re seeing is differences in vaccination rates. The Europeans are more highly-vaccinated than we are. And if you look at the U.K., for example, their elderly are better vaccinated and boosted than ours. And so in the U.K., they are seeing an increase in hospitalizations and deaths despite really good vaccination rates. And so I think that is something that has many of us concerned.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great point to make about the differences in vaccination rates. So to that point, the FDA recently authorized an additional booster for certain populations, 50 and older, some immunocompromised people. What did you make of that? Did that make sense in the way that it was applied?

 

Celine Gounder: Well, certainly people over 65, people with immunocompromising conditions, these are the people who are at highest risk for severe complications from COVID. It’s not like there is a huge jump in risk once you turn 65, though it’s incremental increase with age. And I think what is concerning, though, is one, we do not have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate everyone over the age of 65 with an additional booster dose, much less everybody over the age of 50. That would require additional funding from Congress to purchase additional doses. At the same time, on April 5th, HRSA, the Health Resources and Services Administration, so this is part of HHS, their uninsured program will be expiring in terms of covering provider fees for administering vaccines. So if you’re uninsured and you want to get vaccinated, you’re not going to be able to go to your local retail pharmacy or other popular sites to get vaccinated. It could even be, you know, local doctor’s office. You’re going to have to go to very specific sites where they’re willing to eat the cost of administering that vaccine to you. So I think there’s a lot of reasons, you know, expanding eligibility for boosters may have a limited real-world public health impact.

 

Gideon Resnick: So something else that you brought up, President Biden has been urging more COVID aid. What would be sort of the ideal framework for the next package?

 

Celine Gounder: Well, you know, I think what you are seeing is right now the administration is focusing on pharmaceutical products, so tests, drugs, medications, and vaccines. The problem is those products then have to be distributed, right? So that means who’s going to pay for the provider costs of giving you a test and making a diagnosis or prescribing that Paxlovid or giving you that shot? And the health care system in the U.S. is very much rigged in favor of people who are have better insurance, who are higher income, so if you’re going to be distributing these products through our routine health care system, you are going to see widening health disparities. The other issue is the U.S. is a highly individualistic country, and to ask people to continue taking individual action to protect themselves and others is just, I think people have lost patience with that. And so are there measures that would not require individuals to take action, but that would more equitably protect everyone? So what am I talking about here? These would be things like improving indoor ventilation and air filtration. That could have a significant impact. Another example would be paid sick and family medical leave. We have seen over and over again lower-income people, communities of color are stuck having to go to work even if they’re sick. They send their kids to school even if they’re sick because they can’t afford a day off work, they can’t afford child care. And that then leads to more transmission in their communities and more risk for themselves in their communities.

 

Gideon Resnick: That was our conversation with Dr. Celine Gounder. We are unfortunately probably going to have to talk about all of this in the coming days, but that is the latest for now. Let’s get to some headlines.

 

[sung] Headlines.

 

Gideon Resnick: Here’s a roundup of some of the latest from Ukraine. Russian forces are finally moving away from the cities of Kiev and Chernihiv, according to Ukrainian officials on Wednesday. The night before Russia continued to launch strikes despite its diplomats promising during peace talks that the country would quote, “drastically reduce” such attacks. So that subsequent troop movement has Ukrainians breathing a bit of a sigh of relief after being skeptical that Russia would follow through on that pledge. Meanwhile, declassified U.S. intelligence suggests that Russian officials are misleading Vladimir Putin about their country’s poor military performance out of fear for how he might react.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Not good!

 

Gideon Resnick: No. Here is U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking to that point yesterday:

 

[clip of Sec. Antony Blinken] One of the Achilles heels of autocracies is that you don’t have people in those systems who speak truth to power or who have the ability to speak truth to power. And I think that is something that we’re seeing in Russia.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And as for the US, President Biden announced yesterday that he is going to give Ukraine an additional half billion dollars in aid, which Ukraine could use for military purposes, humanitarian aid, and more. And at last count, the UN says more than four million people have fled the country.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Three states some movement on the issue of reproductive choice this week. Getting the absolutely terrible one out of the way first: in Arizona, Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill yesterday that will outlaw abortion after 15 weeks. That law is modeled on a Mississippi law that SCOTUS is currently reviewing, and there’s another ban just like it awaiting Ron DeSantis’s signature in Florida. In Idaho, Planned Parenthood filed a petition with the state Supreme Court to block the state’s ban on abortions after six weeks, which is set to take effect next month. Planned Parenthood’s interim CEO said of the lawmakers who passed the bill quote, “These politicians sold their soul to an extremist minority. I want to be clear we will not allow them to take away our control over our own bodies.” And in Maryland, Democrats in the state legislature are working to expand abortion access. They passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow trained health providers who are not physicians to perform abortions following the lead of 14 other states. The Maryland bill would also forbid insurers from charging abortion recipients out-of-pocket costs. The state’s governor, Larry Hogan, is a Republican, and he could veto the bill, but it was passed with a veto-proof majority along party lines.

 

Gideon Resnick: Ha-Ha! Got you now, Hogan—maybe that’s something somebody said when it passed. Probably not. If you’re wondering what will happen on the season finale of the beloved episodic drama ‘The Supreme Court’ this headline contains a spoiler. Skip ahead. Yesterday, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she plans to vote to confirm Joe Biden’s nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. So with Collins’ support and presumably all of the Democratic senators on board, potential holdout Joe Manchin signaled his support earlier this week. Judge Jackson is virtually guaranteed to become the first ever Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice. Collins is the first Republican senator to come forward with her support. It’s unclear, shall we say, if others will join her in this decision. But this does mean that Judge Jackson will technically be confirmed with bipartisan support. So after meeting with Judge Jackson privately twice, once before and once after last week’s highly-contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Collins said quote, “there can be no question that she is qualified to be a Supreme Court justice.” Collins joins the two thirds of all Americans who share that belief, according to new polling that was out yesterday from Marquette Law School. Democrats are pushing for a final vote on Judge Jackson’s nomination ahead of Easter on April 17th. We look forward to celebrating the good news with you all soon, and if there is not good news, I never said that. I never said it.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: You know, we hardly ever get nice things, I will say. Just as once.

 

Gideon Resnick: Could be cool.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I would like to have it. This is amazing. I would love this. Fingers crossed. Knock on wood. Knock on anything right now. Everybody listening to this.

 

Gideon Resnick: .Anything in front of you, please, knock it.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: In taking on its rival social media app, TikTok, Facebook parent company Meta has been using a time-honored strategy: if you can’t beat them, smear them by teaming up with the worst people on Earth.

 

Gideon Resnick: Oh, no.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: New reporting from The Washington Post revealed yesterday that Meta has been paying one of the country’s biggest Republican consulting firms to help bolster anti-TikTok sentiment. That firm is called Targeted Victory, and it pulled in over $200 million from Republican-aligned PACs in 2020. Its methods in the campaign against TikTok have included helping to place op-eds in key congressional districts and seeding negative press about the app in local media, like a report that aired on a local Hawaiian news affiliate warning of a quote, “slap-a-teacher TikTok challenge” which simply never existed. Like, you know, many of the things these people are finding, supposedly. As one of the firm’s own directors wrote in a leaked email, the company’s goal has been, to quote, “get the message out that while Meta is the current punching bag, tikTok is the real threat.” Current punching bag, by the way, is another way of saying company that designs websites to make us hate each other and ourselves. Meta tends to spend big on lobbying, dropping a full $20 million in 2021. Yesterday’s report from The Washington Post comes at a time when the company is losing or has lost many of its young users.

 

Gideon Resnick: Listen, I’m sure there will come a day where TikTok is the more evil of two apps that we’re talking about, but at this current moment, we know what we’re dealing with with Facebook. You know, we’re aware. And Meta for that matter, and everything that Meta does. It’s bad. Just one man’s opinion. It’s bad.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Sorry, we stan TikTok. The little Duolingo owl—my favorite guy.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes, it’s fun. And at some point it will be bad. But until then—

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Until then, no, we love it. It’s harmless. It’s fun.

 

Gideon Resnick: Please don’t show me any negative headlines about TikTok.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And please don’t tweet me about how it’s not harmless. I don’t want to see it.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads with a chat about midterm madness with Vote Save America.

 

[ad break]

 

Priyanka Aribindi:  it is Thursday WAD squad and we wanted to do something of a temp check about this year’s midterm elections. If you forgot, they are still happening amid all the craziness of our world. And there happens to be a lot at stake. So we really wanted to start a drumbeat about how you need to be paying attention now, and we’ll be doing a series of conversations in the coming months that cover everything from how to vote, how to decide who to vote for, upcoming local races, cool positions that you might know about, cool candidates, you know, and how we can make our voices heard by voting and more.

 

Gideon Resnick: And where you can do cocaine with Madison Cawthorn.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: You got to stay tuned!

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, you do. You do. You had the opportunity to talk to a legendary fellow member of the Crooked Multiverse? Tell us about it.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So to learn more about what’s at stake this year, I sat down with Shaniqua McClendon. She is Crooked’s Senior Director of Politics. She’s also organizing Vote Save America’s 2022 electoral engagement campaign. It’s called—and Gideon, you and all the other sports people are going to love this—Midterm Madness.

 

Gideon Resnick: I get it. I get what you’re saying.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Got their finger on the pulse over there. I started by asking a little bit of a different question. I feel like a bunch of us, you know me included, have been through a lot over the past few years. There was the 2020 election. There’s been this whole pandemic, there’s a lot happening, and a lot of people are kind of burnt out on news, politics, the like. I started by asking her what advice she has for people who are feeling that way, and you know, how to combat that.

 

Shaniqua McClendon. First, everyone should know they are not alone. The team behind Vote Save America, we love the work we do, but we are exhausted as well. And so I think what I would say to people is focus on what you can control, but also take breaks. And for a lot of people, since Trump was elected in 2016, the thought of getting rid of him motivated and energized a lot of people to get involved. And I don’t mean to use, you know, negative incentives, but if Trump being gone motivated you before, like, we still have a lot of bad people in government that we need to get out of government. We have a lot more house to clean. I’m thinking about Mitch McConnell, thinking about people like Lindsey Graham, or even the prospect of Trump running again for president in 2024. We’re going to have to put in the work, and it’s not always going to be easy, but knowing that there is a better option than what we have now, hopefully, is a form of energy to get people going again.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: So let’s talk about the stakes in these upcoming midterm elections. Obviously, there are elections at every level, but the ones that people are most familiar with are probably the ones in the House and the Senate. What is at stake in those chambers?

 

Shaniqua McClendon. Everything. But if I had to like narrow it down, in the Senate, we need to maintain just the majority. I mean, the only reason we have the majority is because Joe Biden is in the White House and Kamela Harris is the tiebreaker. But we need to at least maintain that because that means Chuck Schumer gets to decide what bills we vote on, and even though we struggle to get some passed, we still get to decide what gets a vote. And even if you know, a bunch of Republicans don’t vote for it, we at least have them on the record for not voting for things. And then the Supreme Court. So right now, we’re watching Judge Jackson’s confirmation process happen. If we lose seats, that means Mitch McConnell can tell Joe Biden—I would like to think he would say, No, I don’t want that candidate send another one—but we know what he’ll do. He will literally hold the seat open, any additional seats that come open, he will hold them open until every Republican is elected president.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: They’re all a bunch of state and local races happening all over the place. Can you talk a little bit about why it’s so important to pay attention to those elections, and are there any positions that you think of that end up having a bunch of power in these places that people just kind of overlook?

 

Shaniqua McClendon. First off, our state legislatures, a lot of people were focused on those more than they usually are in 2020 because redistricting was coming. But now, if we look at some of the decisions like Roe v. Wade that are going to be put before the Supreme Court, if Roe is struck down, it’s going to come down to states and state legislatures to either protect or weaken protections for access to abortion care. So state legislatures are really important, and a lot of people actually drop off when they’re filling out their ballot because they don’t know who these folks are.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right!

 

Shaniqua McClendon. That happened in Arizona. A lot of legislative candidates lost, even though Joe Biden won, because people just stopped going down the ballot. That’s a lot of power that most people are not paying attention to.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Vote Save America, obviously very instrumental in getting people involved in the last two election cycles and, you know, beating those feelings up, feeling a little bit overwhelmed and burnt out. Your program this year is called Midterm Madness. It’s very well timed. But can you walk us through, you know, what this is and how we can get involved?

 

Shaniqua McClendon. Midterm Madness is our 2022 midterm electoral engagement program, and we’re splitting the country into four regions. For instance, if you are in the western region, you have a state like Arizona that has statewide opportunity: Secretary of State, Governor and a Senate race, state legislative opportunities. In a place like Arizona, if you go into a blue city that has a mayoral or a city council race and really get people excited about those local candidates, that might increase their turnout in that part of the state and, you know, help a Democrat win that may have won otherwise, but it also will increase overall turnout in the state, which is useful for statewide candidates who maybe are not having as much success in rural areas, but if you can, you know, overcompensate for that in more progressive areas, that helps them win statewide as well. So—

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Oh yeah, that’s like such an interesting way to look at it of like, lifting kind of everybody. And one last question for you. So what is the best way to pick a region here? Like, are you trying to do it on strategy? Is this just like where you live, like where you’re from? What do you suggest to the people who look at the map and are like, Where do I pick?

 

Shaniqua McClendon. Where do you go? I would say it should be based on where either you live or you’re from. Basically, wherever you can get involved the most. If things stay safe with COVID, we will be asking people to show up and canvass in person and volunteer in person. So picking a place where you can do that is really important, but we’ll take your help anywhere.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Got it, OK. If we want to sign up for Midterm Madness, where should we go?

 

Shaniqua McClendon. Go to Votesaveamerica dot com/midtermmadness. Pop your email in and we’ll be in contact with what you can do.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Thank you so much.

 

Shaniqua McClendon. Thanks for having me.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Shaniqua McClendon, Crooked’s Senior Director of Politics. We will be keeping up with her and Vote Save America throughout the year, and we’ll also be linking to Midterm Madness in our show notes. So go ahead, sign up, pick your region. Do all the things. You can join me on the West team. Gideon, where will you be?

 

Gideon Resnick: Cawthorn team. I don’t know. I’ll look later. OK. In the meantime, we’d love to answer your questions about midterms. If there is a topic that you want to know more about or a question that you’d like us to ask an expert about voting, elections, everything in between, you can tweet at us @priaribi—that’s p r i a r b i— and @Gideonresnick. I think you can figure out how to spell it somehow. Hit us with your best questions and we will try to get them answered.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: One more thing before we go: we will be out tomorrow because we are celebrating Cesar Chavez Day, which is today. Today is also the International Transgender Day of Visibility. So if you want to support and stand with the trans community today, we’ve left some links in our show notes to help you direct your efforts. We will be back with a new episode for you on Monday.

 

Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, don’t invite Madison Cawthorn to the function, and tell your friends to listen.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just TikTok oppo research on Meta by Facebook, like me—oh my god—What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

[together] And check out the rest of the Crooked Media Multiverse!

 

Gideon Resnick: You know, that implies that we are also different iterations of ourselves throughout a multiverse, which is also kind of an interesting thing to think about.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, as long as we’re your favorites in the multiverse, I’m cool with you checking out, you know, what else we got going on. But just remember where this started, everybody

 

Gideon Resnick: You can check it out to validate that we’re the best ones.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That we’re your favorites.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.